Editorial: Rehabilitation investment a circuit breaker

Readers of The Standard may greet Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass’s report into the provision of alcohol and drug rehabilitation services following time in jail as old news.

Highlighting the failure of an over-stressed system to provide adequate support to keep released criminals off drugs and thus prevent future offending might seem like stating the obvious but this valuable report has put the issue in stark clarity. It presents figures which many in regional cities have long experienced.

The rate of recidivist offending is at a record high of over 40 per cent, over 75 per cent of male prisoners and 83 per cent of female prisoners reported illicit drug use and in the last five years the prison population has risen by 25 percent. 

While the report does not specify the illicit drugs and includes alcohol, we know any addiction has the power to overcome the best intentions of released prisoners and this is particularly acute with the mind-altering effects of ice. 

Many a magistrate has voiced his frustration after yet another defense appeal based around the accused being in the grip of ice at the time. But the doubt from the bench stems from the justified skepticism that individual will simply fall back into deplorable habits and the crime that ensues and that the support system to keep these offenders off drugs falls short while compliance is woefully inadequate. Like a ghastly self-fulfilling prophesy, all it takes is a passing of time and the same offender is back in the dock and again ice is a key factor. 

Victoria spends over a $1 billion a year on prisons and this is a figure that is going to continue to grow unless a circuit breaker is put in place. The “lock ‘em up” approach doesn’t work as a deterrent or in an effective rehabilitative role.  As the United States shows, zero tolerance and the extreme punitive approach, even capital  punishment simply increases the prison population and as the recidivist population circulates so the crime rate escalates.

Society keeps paying unless we get them off the drug. Just last month a national study into ice-related deaths that made headlines highlighted the health cost in measurable terms with fatalities doubling to 280 in 2015, itself obscuring a much larger risk of wider health and social costs. 

The need for greater investment in rehabilitation must be the key circuit breaker if this horrible merry-go round is not going to swallow up more of regional Victoria.