Indigenous offenders with addictions to rehab: report

It's a "no-brainer" that sending non-violent Aboriginal offenders with drug and alcohol problems to rehab rather than prison would cost less and bring better outcomes, an indigenous leader says.

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A new report commissioned by two drug and and alcohol bodies and released on Monday says $111,000 could be saved each year per offender if such diversion programs were used.

"Diversion is associated with both financial savings as well as improvements in health and mortality," the report by Deloitte Access Economics found.

If 1600 non-violent indigenous offenders were treated for substance addictions instead of being held in custody, state and territory governments would save $340 million a year, it said.

The savings made from diverting 100 people to treatment would fund the running costs of 20 rehabilitation centres.

National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee (NIDAC) chair Ted Wilkes said the findings were a "no-brainer."

"Let's get on with it," he told reporters in Canberra.

"Our Aboriginal Australians are suffering."

Indigenous men were significantly more likely to report being intoxicated when they committed an offence, Mr Wilkes said.

"Do governments really believe that prison is the best answer to these problems?"

Incarceration was associated with poor health outcomes for prisoners, including a higher risk of death after release, Wilkes said.

He called on Australian governments to support justice reinvestment - shifting spending away from locking up offenders to community-based programs focused on prevention.

Indigenous Health Minister Warren Snowdon said it was easy for people to say "lock `em up".

"We hear the mantra all the time, get them off the streets," he said.

"Maybe what we've got to do is look at a humanitarian way of dealing with people with severe issues."

NIDAC deputy co-chair Scott Wilson called for justice statistics to be included in the federal government's Closing the Gap targets, aimed at addressing indigenous disadvantage.

He told of a young indigenous man who died of a drug overdose 12 hours after being released from an Australian prison.

Australian National Council director Gino Vumbaca said the argument that people who do the crime should do the time fell short of solving the problem.

"You have to support policies you would want for your own kids," he said.

"If your child has a drug and alcohol problem, would you want authorities to imprison that person or treat the problem?"

In 2011, $3 billion was spent on 115 Australian prisons.

However, funding for rehabilitation services has been in decline and only 30 facilities nationally provide drug and alcohol treatment to indigenous people.

A Senate inquiry is investigating the justice reinvestment issue.
 

Have your say...

bruni brewin | Wednesday, 6 February 2013, 8:20 PM
If it saves money - great! However, I believe that it should include non-violent 'everybody' not just indigenous people. Most people with a drinking problem have their own daemons that alcohol, obesity, smoking or gambling masks. Isn't it just as important that all people should be treated with the same respect?
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