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Corrections Amendment (Electronic Monitoring) Bill 2020

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Tags: Corrections, Parole, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, the Greens will be supporting the Corrections Amendment (Electronic Monitoring) Bill 2020. We recognise it is legislation that seeks to balance prisoner rehabilitation with community safety. It has broad support from key stakeholders in this space, including Civil Liberties Tasmania, Community Legal Centres Tasmania, and the Prisoners Legal Service.

It is only a short bill, which amends the Corrections Act of 1997, section 72, to insert a new subsection (5A), which gives power to the Parole Board to specify conditions relating to the electronic monitoring of a prisoner when it makes a parole order in relation to that prisoner.

I note that in the second reading, the Minister for Corrections has acknowledged that parole continues to be a necessary and effective option to reduce the number of offenders in prison, and promote rehabilitation and reintegration while it is still ensuring the protection of the community. While I have no doubt this is a significant, although modest in terms of the clause amendments, change to the Corrections Act, it is in part, I believe, brought about as a consequence of the fact that Risdon Prison is bursting at the seams.

During the past six years, under a conservative government's law and order agenda, and an inability to properly fund drug education and prevention and rehabilitation, we have seen the prison population in Tasmania ballooned and that must go to government policy. There is no other way to look at it because, as I have said in this place before under a Greens Corrections minister, we had Breaking the Cycle policy, we had recidivism going down, over time for correctional officers going down, lockdowns decreasing.

We had a change manager in place in Brian Edwards, who oversaw a shift in the culture of Risdon Prison that made a tangible difference to the way it operated and made a difference to the lives of inmates. I make that observation as an observation of the facts. The data is really clear that when the now Senator Nick McKim left the Corrections portfolio it was in good shape, in as good shape as a Corrections portfolio can be. We are seeing the consequences of a punitive approach to law and order and moving away from other alternatives to putting people in prison where now we have the population of Risdon Prison increasing, which is placing more pressure on the system to build a northern prison.

The evolved jurisdictions are actually moving away from that punitive 'lock them up' approach towards a more rehabilitative response in corrections and they are seeing not only prison populations going down and better outcomes for released prisoners but the community is safer as a consequence. Once people go into a prison environment and spend extended periods there, they become institutionalised. There are many examples of poor outcomes for people who would have been far better off being sentenced to a community service sentence or some other arrangement that did not lock them up and throw away the key for a while.

We were encouraged through this legislation which we do not see as a contentious but we have been encouraged by the broad support that has come from Community Legal Centres Tasmania in a submission made to the Justice department towards the end of this year. I note that a number of matters that were raised in the consultation process have not been reflected in the final draft of the legislation and the Community Legal Centres Tasmania, for example, says:

It is unclear why a more complete list of the conditions available to the Parole Board should not also be included.

For example, a review of the Parole Board of Tasmania's recent decisions demonstrates that there had been 31 successful applicants for parole in the first six months of this year. Of these applicants, 84 per cent had a range of specific conditions attached to their parole, including engaging with the rehabilitation programs, a ban on associating with particular individuals and an exclusion from particular locations as a graph that is included in their submission indicates. CLCT goes on to say:

We strongly recommend that if the bill is intended to provide more transparency around the orders available to the Parole Board of Tasmania then the abovementioned and non-exhaustive conditions should be clearly outlined in the amended subsection 5A.

A good model that we believe should be considered is section 30 of the Sentence Administration Act 2003 Western Australia.

The CLCT closed its submission with:

We strongly recommend that the bill is broadened to include a more transparent list of the conditions available for the Corrections minister to respond.

The question for the Corrections minister is, why was the decision made not to extend the definitions in the bill and the conditions that are available to applied?

Civil Liberties Australia in its submission of July said:

In principle, CLA supports the proposed amendment. CLA supports initiatives that expand the scope for non-custodial options where this does not compromise the safety of the community. Electronic monitoring should, in theory, allow greater scope for prisoners to serve part of their sentences in the community. This would reduce the impact on families and dependence of prisoners. It would reduce the cost to the taxpayer and could improve the reintegration outcomes for the prisoners themselves. These benefits have been suggested in various studies, including most recently in the Queensland Productivity Commission's inquiry into imprisonment and recidivism.

If it achieves these outcomes, electronic monitoring will also go some way to addressing the large prison population in Australia, which has grown substantially in the past few decades and now places Australia among the developed nations with the highest rates of incarceration. As a result, budgets for prison services have outstripped other areas of government services and new and larger prisons are being built, including in Tasmania, at considerable cost.

Again I put it to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that this is 'back woods' justice policy. It is ineffective justice policy to have a punitive law and order approach which is populist but that is also filling Risdon Prison and placing pressure on the corrections system to the extent that now the taxpayers of Tasmania will have to pay tens of millions of dollars to build a northern prison. That is an admission of failure, because if you have as prison and corrections system that is serious about breaking the cycle and has a therapeutic response, you can bring down your prison population, make the community safer and ensure that people who come into conflict with the justice system and find their way into the corrections system have a better chance of rehabilitation when they come out the other side, if they do.

Community Legal Centres Tasmania recommend that the Government also makes clear that electronic monitoring will be used only to assist parolees to comply with other parole orders, for example orders to not go near a former victim or a former criminal associate. It should not be a tool for 24/7 surveillance or control when the parolee is complying fully with their parole orders - see the related point below about the handling, privacy and use of any data or information created through the use of electronic monitoring.

The CLCs recommend that in introducing the bill the Government undertake to evaluate the extent to which the amendments achieve these intended outcomes, say every two years, and report back to the Tasmanian public. The report should also evaluate any unintended outcomes from the amendments.

Civil Liberties Tasmania has concerns about the collection, storage, privacy and use of data created as a result of the use of electronic monitoring and there are no protections of that data or constraints on its use contained in the amendment bill we are debating today. On behalf of Civil Liberties Tasmania I ask that the Minister for Corrections to please explain why. Civil Liberties Tasmania also has concerns, the submission goes on, about the length of time that a parolee may be subject to electronic monitoring under parole orders, noting that in some cases this could be many years.

Finally, the submission from the Prisoners Legal Service again gives in-principle support to this amendment to the Corrections Act but warns of potential unintended consequences and in fact points to evidence from the United States, where of course the corrections system is almost entirely privatised, of the potential unintended but devastating impacts on parolees that may inhibit a parolee's capacity to reintegrate into the community. The submission talks about the potential impact on finding and maintaining employment but also in seeking medical treatment when you have an electronic device attached to you.

The submission talks about a study done by the Florida State University that suggested a requirement to wear or possess an electronic monitoring device has significant impacts for parolees in terms of their ability to find and maintain employment. The negative effects of electronic monitoring on a parolee's ability to find and maintain employment were illustrated by the findings of a six-year study of 5000 parolees who each were subject to electronic monitoring that was published in a report by Florida State University in 2010, a summary version of which was subsequently published by the United States Department of Justice in 2011.

It looked at the bleak and tragic consequences of electronic monitoring on Craig Leroy Atkins, who was released after serving 21 years in prison for murder in Michigan. He was granted parole in 2010, got a job in a construction firm earning $26 an hour and enrolled in a paralegal course at a community college. He was clearly very keen to reintegrate with society and have another crack at life and move away from his past. Not long after he secured this job, there was an order that he needed to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, which required him to have a four-inch cube-shaped black box near him at all times. Consequently, Atkins' employer was unwilling to accept that the box had to stay in the workplace and fired him. Subsequently, in an interview with a free press journalist, Atkins opined, 'It's almost like they want me to start selling drugs again'. Less than a year later, Atkins was found dead on the street from a gunshot wound to the chest. It was suggested by the person who studied him that he had reverted to his previous criminal activity owing to his inability to maintain employment.

This is why, when you look at the experience of overseas jurisdictions, it is really important that we have a capacity to review the effect of this provision on the people who are living with it. While there is no doubt this amendment will provide some more freedoms to parolees, there are potential unintended consequences. That is why we strongly encourage the Minister for Corrections to commit to reviewing working with the Parole Board and reviewing the provisions of this amendment and how they have impacted on parolees' capacity to obtain and maintain employment and to have any health treatments they need.

If we are serious about rehabilitating prisoners, which makes our community safer as well as gives people another chance, we should be prepared to examine the evidence and the effect of decisions that are made by the Tasmanian Parliament and embedded in statute.

With those words and questions we will be supporting the bill. We have no need to go into Committee, it is very straightforward, but in good faith we ask the minister to address the questions raised by these key stakeholders in the sector.