There are many factors that influence imprisonment and recidivism. The scope of this inquiry therefore encompasses a broad set of issues and areas—from early intervention to post-prison support (Figure 1).

Given the broad scope of this inquiry, it was not possible for the Commission to conduct a detailed operational review of the Queensland criminal justice system (Box 1) or every program, policy or action that affects imprisonment.

Our approach to this inquiry reflects that at least 10 major reviews have looked at aspects of the criminal justice system in Queensland over the last decade. Many of their recommendations are still being implemented. This inquiry has built on, rather than revisited, the issues covered by these reviews.

The Commission has concentrated on the key policy and institutional changes that are likely to provide the greatest net benefit to the community. The Commission has taken a community-wide approach to assessing options—where possible, assessing the costs and benefits of reform options and examining whether there were more effective and efficient ways of doing things.

Key points:

  • The rate of imprisonment—the number of prisoners per head of population—has increased by more than 160 per cent since 1992.
  • At the margin, the costs of imprisonment are likely to outweigh the benefits, with increasing imprisonment working to reduce community safety over time.
  • Given the scale of policy reforms required, an essential first step will be to overhaul the decisionmaking architecture of the criminal justice system, including establishing an independent Justice Reform Office to provide a focus on longer-term outcomes and drive evidence-based policy-making.
  • Many offending behaviours can be addressed outside of the criminal justice system through a victim restitution and restoration system, targeted community-level interventions and greater use of diversionary approaches
  • After many decades of operation, illicit drugs policy has failed to curb supply or use. The policy costs around $500 million per year to administer and is a key contributor to rising imprisonment rates (32 per cent since 2012). It also results in significant unintended harms, by incentivising the introduction of more harmful drugs and supporting a large criminal market. Evidence suggests moving away from a criminal approach will reduce harm and is unlikely to increase drug use.
  • High Indigenous incarceration rates undermine efforts to solve disadvantage—currently an Indigenous male in Queensland has an almost 30 per cent chance of being imprisoned by the age of 25. Longterm structural and economic reforms that devolve responsibility and accountability to Indigenous communities are required. Independent oversight of reforms is essential.
  • These reforms, if adopted, could reduce the prison population by up to 30 per cent and save around $300 million per year in prison costs, without compromising community safety.
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