Parliament: Questions Kelly's Asked

Prisoners Accessing the National Disability Insurance Scheme

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking questions of the Minister for Correctional Services regarding prisoners accessing the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Leave granted.

Many of the more than 3,000 South Australians incarcerated in this state’s prisons have diagnosed mental illness, disability or a history of substance abuse. There are also some prisoners who have undiagnosed disabilities, including foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Some prisoners have a history or a background of traumatic child abuse or neglect, limited educational opportunity and low literacy. As I have pointed out in this place before, people incarcerated in our prisons have a far greater prescription rate for psychotic drugs than the general population.

On any given day, more than 200 South Australians sit in overcrowded prisons after they have completed their sentence. They are eligible for release, but because there is not suitable accommodation or release planning for them, they remain in prison. I am sure the members of this chamber are aware that adults will begin rolling onto the National Disability Insurance Scheme in South Australia from 1 July this year, with around 1,500 Australians per month entering the scheme. My questions to the minister are:

  1. Given the high rate of disability and/or serious mental illness in prisons, what planning processes are in place to ensure that prisoners can transition smoothly onto the NDIS upon release from prison?
  2. What work is being done by the Department for Correctional Services with the National Disability Insurance Agency to provide prisoners with information about the NDIS so that they know how to go about getting information about their eligibility 6 to 12 months before their release?

3.What work is the minister and the Department for Correctional Services doing to ensure that prisoners who have faced multiple and significant disadvantages and may also have psychosocial or intellectual disability, or both, have the opportunity to develop life skills and improve their literacy so that they have the best possible chance upon their release from prison?

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS (Minister for Police, Minister for Correctional Services, Minister for Emergency Services, Minister for Road Safety):I thank the Hon. Ms Vincent for her questions. There are a number components to it, some of which I have already spoken to during earlier questions today. Indeed, I believe the Hon. Ms Vincent has recently asked questions regarding the procedures and processes that will apply to those prisoners who may be eligible for the NDIS post their release from custody. I have undertaken to get a suite of information on that particular question, as much as is reasonably possible, to the honourable member and I am happy to reiterate that commitment again today.

In her question, the honourable member referred to overcrowded prisons—I think was the term used. We have made no secret of the fact that our prison system in South Australia is under strain. We have had a substantial rise in the South Australian prison population for a number of years. A statistic that was at hand recently, as I recall, was a 25 per cent increase in our prison population over the last three years, which is an extraordinary increase. We don’t see that sort of level of increase in too many other areas in terms of demand of services within government, generally.

I am very relieved to be able to inform the chamber, as I have on other occasions previously, that the government does have a proactive, deliberate, thought through and cogent policy response to the issue of overcrowding within our prison system. The government is investing in new beds. There have been a large number of beds that have already come online in recent times. In 2014-15, 203 additional new beds came into the system at a capital cost of $29.8 million. Last year, we saw 230 beds come online into the system, which I am advised was at a cost of $50.9 million.

This financial year, we have approximately 138 beds coming online and another 132 beds coming online at Port Augusta Prison early next year at a total cost (amongst those facilities) of $82 million. These are big amounts of money, huge amounts of money. We have regularly stated that building the capital facilities that are required for locking people up and denying them their liberty is an expensive exercise, but equally so is the cost of incarcerating them generally.

The total cost of incarceration is somewhere in the order of $100,000 per annum per prisoner, or thereabouts. That is a very big number; it is an extraordinarily expensive exercise. So, of course, we have to have a well thought through, thorough response to this substantial challenge, other than just locking up more people, building more and more prison beds. There is a need to look at alternate ways to try to deal with this differently.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS: Yes, the Hon. Ms Lensink’s interjects, referring to the ‘rack ’em, pack ’em and stack ’em’ comment of one of my predecessors in respect to being a member of cabinet, the Hon. Kevin Foley. That is a policy response that I and this government have actively renounced. We now have a more complex, thought through, long-term strategy to reduce the rate of reoffending. Last year, the Weatherill government committed to a target to reduce the rate of reoffending by 10 per cent by the year 2020. Of course, that is a risky undertaking. Setting targets brings with it a degree of political risk. We are conscious of that, because it is a target to which we can and should be held to account, so we are working to achieve our target.

The Hon. J.E. Hanson: We have a plan.

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS: That is exactly right: we have a plan. Just like we do on energy, we have a plan with respect to corrections policy. It is good to have a plan. I think honourable members, earlier this week, have acknowledged that it is good to have a plan. So, not only do we have a thought through plan when it comes to energy policy, but also we have a plan with respect to corrections policy. Reducing the rate of reoffending has a number of benefits outside of reducing the costs to which I referred earlier. Reducing the rate of reoffending, of course, has the benefit of also making our community safer. If we are able to reduce that rate of reoffending, which is currently—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: I am just hoping you have a plan to end your speech.

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS: Mr President, I can assure you that I have approximately 48 seconds to go before this speech concludes. We are going to reduce the rate of reoffending by 10 per cent. Currently, it is sitting at 46 per cent. If we realise our reduction of 10 per cent, we will get that number down. When we do it will mean that fewer crimes are being committed within the community. Fewer crimes being committed in the community means a safer community. That is what we are constantly striving for.

On the one hand, to achieve that we are delivering the largest police force in the history of this state, with more police officers per capita than any other state in the commonwealth, which, combined with reducing the rate of reoffending, will mean that we have a safer community, which is a good thing for all South Australians generally.