Offenders should be able to work to pay off debts
OFFENDERS should be able to work off their fine debts with community service to combat the "revolving door" of imprisonment, an inquiry has heard in Townsville.
Special interest groups and professionals working in the criminal justice system in Townsville have implored the Queensland Productivity Commission to improve the state's mandated community service program and suggested offenders be allowed to work off their State Penalty Enforcement Registry (SPER) debts through volunteering.
Currently Townsville residents owe more than $46 million in fines and fees to SPER.
The Commission has been tasked by the State Government to undertake an inquiry into imprisonment and recidivism in Queensland.
At a recent public forum a Townsville man, who works with indigenous communities to prevent recidivism, said many aspects of the criminal justice system were "broken".
"If someone gets issued a SPER debt for breaking the law, they go to prison, that debt's still there racking up and they get out and have no chance of paying it at all," he said.
"The Government should let those people contribute to repayments through volunteer work or they will end up back inside before you know it."
More than half of Queensland prisoners reoffend are given a new sentence within two years of their release, according to recent Government data.
A woman who worked with the support group "Sisters Inside" said prisoners need more tailored support on exit from prison.
"A woman's stay in prison is usually much shorter than a man's, depending on the crime, but it can be around five or six weeks, which is just long enough to lose a job, accommodation or your children," she said.
"They get out of jail with nothing but haven't been in there long enough to have qualified for assistance."
The woman said she had seen people coming out of prison and "crying in the car park" because they had nowhere to go.
"Recently when we were on a visit to the jail we came across a woman who wasn't released until about 4.30pm on a Friday," she said.
"She couldn't get to Centrelink in time, she had no money, no accommodation, a couple of thousand kilometres away from her kids and can't get anywhere for the weekend."
Matt Clark, who is the Inquiry leader and principle economist, said the public hearings were a way of having the community raise issues that are relevant to the Commission's terms of reference.
"Hearing people's issues concerns face-to-face is vital, it's our evidence base … we don't know what goes on in Townsville unless people tell us.
"Obviously we can look at data but that's not the same as on the ground stories about how services are working, their day to day experiences interacting with the criminal justice system.
Mr Clark said Commission's draft report is due in February 2019 with the full report expected to be completed by August.
The Commission is accepting submissions from interested parities until 26 October 2018.