FOR more than 20 years in NSW, a looming state election has meant an inevitable war of words between the major parties over which one intended to be “tougher on crime”.
The unwinnable arms race began in the 1990s as both the Labor Party and Coalition used a spiralling drug problem in Sydney, in particular, as a chance to beat their chests over crime.
Both parties desperately wanted to paint a picture of out-of-control gangs on the streets of Cabramatta and Kings Cross and vowed to put more police on the beat and more crims behind bars.
Fast forward to 2018, with another state election less than six months away, and let’s hope the debate has become somewhat more nuanced.
Don’t be fooled: There is still more than enough “get tough on crime” rhetoric to satisfy the most anxious voter, with the Coalition Government investing $3.8 billion – announced in the 2016-17 budget – to upgrade the state’s prison system to meet current and future needs.
That includes a $110 million upgrade of Bathurst Correctional Centre that will see a new wing built to house more than 200 maximum security offenders, with money also being spent on correctional centre upgrades at Berrima, the Illawarra, Lidcombe, Parklea, Wellington and Cessnock.
It must be one of the most significant investments in jails in the state’s history but the latest jobs announcement provides some hope, at least, that the government is this time taking a more long-term interest in inmate outcomes.
Seven new case workers will employed at Bathurst Correctional Centre tasked with better preparing inmates for life after jail in a bid to reduce recidivism.
It’s not a new idea, and the case last week of a drug-addicted armed robber who admitted to the court that at the time of the crime he was not equipped to live a normal life after being previously released from jail proves such programs are desperately needed.
But governments aren’t always willing to talk up such plans for fear of being accused of going soft on inmates.
Such talk is rubbish, and counter-productive. There has to be more to our jails than locking them up and throwing away the key.
And if taxpayers have to spend some money now on better inmate programs to save money down the track, then surely that’s a much better approach to corrections.