Researcher calls on policy makers to reassess sentencing options for low-level crime

A SENIOR researcher from Charles Sturt University has called on NSW policy makers to reassess whether prison sentences are the best way to handle low-level crime after Tuesday’s riot at Bathurst Jail.

The jail was locked down following an incident between two inmates which escalated rapidly.

As the incident unfolded around 70 inmates in the yards became restless, with around 12 of them refusing to go back to their cells.

The jail’s Immediate Action Team was called in and forced to use chemical munitions to contain the situation. 

Dr Kath McFarlane, from the University’s Centre for Law and Justice said Tuesday’s incident brings to mind some of the problems that 40 years ago, led to the Nagle Royal Commission into the Bathurst Jail riots of 1974.

She said the time has come to reassess the system, adding the vast bulk of people in jail “don’t need to be there.”

She said the community often feel safer when courts hand out ‘tough’ sentences but in reality, with the exception of a small minority of violent offenders, most people don’t need to be in jail for the protection of the community.

Dr McFarlane said the problem are the people who are churned in and out of the system, incarcerated for three or six months at a time for relatively minor matters.

“They’re in jail for such a short time they don’t get the treatment they need.”

They return to jail coming out worse then when they went in.

“The riot on Tuesday indicates things aren’t going well; the jail is over crowded, the inmates aren’t getting the treatment they need, it’s a warning sign.”

Dr McFarlane said addressing prison sentencing and reducing overcrowding would also help relieve pressure on the jail.