Jesuit Social Services

Just Advocacy


08 July 2013

Just a thought

The Victorian Chief Psychiatrist reported last week that over 170 mentally ill patients died of unexpected or violent causes last year. Many of the patients were in their thirties. Comparatively few died when they were in hospitals.

By itself this statistic reveals little, except the pain of the people who died and of those who grieve them. But it merits broader consideration. For we might find comparable numbers if we examined the deaths of people who are unemployed or have spent time in prison and, if the United States experience is a reliable guide, in the armed forces. It may be true of other groups as well.

In the case of prisoners, people who are mentally ill and have fought overseas, a contributing factor to early and unexpected death is their loss of connection with other people and so with society.

People who are mentally ill are often isolated from their families and friends by mental illness. They themselves withdraw from relationships, or those close to them cannot cope with their illness. Their illness and inability to maintain necessary medication may lead them to act violently and in anti-social ways or into addiction. If charged and convicted they may be sent to prison. There their feelings of isolation and despair can grow deeper, even as they become even more totally separated from familiar friends and faces. When they come out of prison they bear the stigma of criminality and their disconnection grows.

Unemployment and the effects of trauma after seeing and being at risk from violence can be similarly isolating. Unless people can speak with skilled listeners, feelings of self-unworthiness, anger and guilt can go unrecognised and unattended to. They can then erode relationships and leave people isolated and unable to sustain relationships.

When people feel alone and without friends to sustain them, they will find little to discourage them from risky, violent and self-destructive behaviour. They will not see anything worth living for.

If we are looking for a mass killer in the face of so many unexpected deaths, its name is loneliness. Loneliness is a wasting disease. It withers people's connections to themselves, to others and to society. It erodes their trust in others and their belief in themselves. It blots out hope.

To deal with statistics such as those revealed by the Chief Psychiatrist it will be important to have hospitals and other services available. For that more money will be needed. But it will be even more important to recognise the lethal power of loneliness and to encourage connection. For that a quality of relationship will be central.

Many economically poorer societies are rich in connection. Extended families look after their vulnerable members; medical theories based on the poles of warmth and cold surround people who have suffered sudden loss or depression with human contact; everyone contributes labour in the fields at harvest time.

In developed societies individuals who are isolated by illness, trauma and the workings of the justice system do it harder. When they are treated their contact with those who treat them will often be perfunctory and official. Their therapy is laced with loneliness.

That is why voluntary groups who understand the need for relationships, and whose workers make it a priority to develop enduring relationships with people suffering mental illness and the effects of trauma and in the justice system are so important. The State can never leave the burden of care to such organisations. But they add the indispensable quality that large public institutions will always find it hard to guarantee.

Loneliness and disconnection feed upon themselves and sap the sinews of human living. Good relationships in faithful care can nurture themselves. They can foster the desire to live and to contribute to society. And they can provide a web of protection that promotes better health outcomes and reduces morbidity that is as essential as adequate health facilities and after-care for vulnerable people in the community. A more just society needs all these ingredients.

Just facts

More than 170 mentally ill patients died of unexpected, unnatural or violent causes in Victoria in 2011/12

Twelve prisoners died in custody between January and May 2013, compared to four in the 2010/11 financial year. Nine of the twelve deaths were reported as from natural causes.

"...if a person happens to become ill, a positive interpersonal network will ameliorate the severity and sequelae of this condition"(Furlong, 2013: 19)

""loneliness [is] on the list of risk factors for ill-health and early death right alongside smoking, obesity and lack of exercise"" (Capcioppo and Patrick, 2008:108 cited by Furlong 2013:20)

Just reading

Furlong, M. (2013) Building the client's relational base: A multidisciplinary handbook. The Policy Press, UK

Vinson, T & Ericson, M. (2012) Life Satisfaction and Happiness (available at: )


13 May 2013

Just a thought

It goes with the turf when working with asylum seekers anywhere that you will be forced to work under the constraints of a policy you may believe to be unjust. And if your work is ultimately commissioned by those who implement the policy, you will be part of the implementation of a policy you may believe to be unjust.

This raises ethical questions about how you can cooperate with such a policy without losing your own integrity.

First you must judge whether the government policy is ethical, and persevere in your judgment even when you are in a minority. In the case of the Australian policy towards asylum seekers, its stated goal is to accept refugees according to the provisions of the United Nations High Commissioner Convention on the Status of Refugees. According to these, people fleeing persecution on particular grounds may make a claim on signatory nations no matter how they arrive. These claims must be assessed, and those found to be refugees offered asylum.

In practice the Australian policy is currently driven by the desire to prevent asylum seekers from making this claim on Australia's protection by arriving onshore by boat. The Government has introduced a series of measures to try to deter people from making hazardous boat journeys. And it simultaneously tries to persuade the domestic audience that it is implacably harsh towards people smugglers.

"Among the measures devised to encourage people not to come by boat are indefinite detention, long postponement of family reunion, off shore processing on Nauru and Manus Island by a non-statutory process, community detention under strict conditions, including no right to work, and bridging visas that provide inadequate income and exclude the possibility of working.

The ethical question we should ask about these policy measures is whether they involve punishing innocent people who have a right to make a claim on Australian protection under Australian law in order to encourage others not to travel by boat? Put to this simple test, it is clear to us that the human impacts of the current deterrent policies on asylum seekers who reach Australian shores by boat are ethically unjustifiable. Much more can be said about the whys and wherefores of this. Our current interest, however, is in how we can act with integrity in our relationships with asylum seekers in our community services in this compromised context.

To judge a policy, in whose administration you are involved, to be unethical presents ethical dilemmas that can be experienced as distressing. To escape them it will be tempting to regard the policy as necessary or as more or less acceptable. To act with integrity, however, this retreat is not open to you. That is why it is necessary to follow and to review one's judgment that it is unethical.

The rock of principle by which you judge whether you cooperate and how you cooperate with a policy you believe is unjust is whether your cooperation is for the good of the asylum seekers with whom you are working. This is the fundamental and non-negotiable principle that gives some clarity in often confused and contested discussions. It must be returned to when considering every detail of what you do.

The good of asylum seekers includes among other things food, shelter, medical, psychological and spiritual care, security, education, self-determination through work and responsibility, caring relationships and connection with others and freedom to worship and express political opinions. These are the goods that your work with asylum seekers may help provide.

The enjoyment of these things constitutes a truly human life. Ensuring that they are possible constitutes respect for human dignity.

To keep your integrity it is also important to make clear your judgment that the policy under which you work is unacceptable and is destructive of the humanity of asylum seekers. How and to whom you make this clear will be decided by asking what contributes best to the good of the asylum seekers for whom you work. It is by no means self-evident that a full-on frontal attack on government by a few workers will be in the asylum seekers' best interests. But workers can always contribute their experience and that of their clients to informed criticism of the policy by the organisations for which they work or their umbrella organisations.

These principles are further challenged if in your actual work with asylum seekers you are required to do anything that is directly disrespectful of them and diminishes their humanity. For example, if you were asked to lock them up, run video surveillance of bathrooms, or provide skilled medical services that you were incompetent for, you could not cooperate because these things amount to an abuse of their dignity. Of course, you are not likely to be asked to do things of this kind. Many times the assault on dignity is more subtle, such as accompanying asylum seekers through adverse findings on their refugee claims or enforcing the regulations of their detention. Some part of this is familiar to those who work in other statutory services that intervene in areas of otherwise accepted liberties, such as child protection or criminal justice. Another part is particular to working with asylum seekers in enforced detention.

You must also reflect on the variety of services you offer and the ways you interact with asylum seekers. Because you are cooperating with a government that implements a policy you believe to be abusive, you must expect to be seen as its collaborators. The context of your service means that harm will be done, particularly to trust. The principle that governs whether you may continue to offer services is again what is good for the asylum seekers you serve. You must ask whether the good you do outweighs the harm. This may be a close run thing.

This question cannot be answered once for all. Given the changes in policy and the knowledge you build up of the good you do and the ways in which an ethically unjustifiable policy hurts asylum seekers, you need to keep reflecting on the cooperation you are required to offer, whether aspects of it involve you directly in abusing the dignity of the asylum seekers, and whether the good you do continues to outrun the harm. This is our challenge to act with integrity.

20 December 2012

As 2012 draws to a close, criminal justice systems in the communities where Jesuit Social Services works are under immense pressure. Police, courts, prisons, prisoners and support services are all facing challenges as there is an increase in prisoner numbers, especially those with complex needs.

We see this pressure in New South Wales where courts are dealing with a high number of bail applications from remandees seeking release into the community for Christmas. The sheer volume of applications reflects the fact that the remand population of New South Wales has trebled since 1995.

Meanwhile, in the Northern Territory the prison population has increased by a staggering 99% since 2001 compared with a population increase of 20%. Police are struggling to deal with violence and alcohol related offences - 70% of offences dealt with by Territory police being alcohol related; Aboriginal women are 23 times more likely to be victims of violence than non-Aboriginal women.

In Victoria, the prison system is struggling to deal with the significant rise in prisoner numbers with 34% of the prison population now housed in accommodation that does not comply with the Government's own standards. At the same time, legal aid services in Victoria are being forced to limit the support they provide to people in the justice system as a result of record demand for services - all of this at a time when the recorded crime rates in the state have actually dropped for most offences.

These pressures present real risks to the quality of justice and also to the safety of communities. The questions that immediately come to mind are 'what is causing this' and 'how do we deal with it'?

In recent years, the response in many Australian jurisdictions has been to focus solely on punitive measures to deal with offenders. This can be seen in the increasingly restrictive criteria incorporated into bail laws in New South Wales; in more extensive police powers to search people, seize substances, and move on individuals suspected of substance abuse in the Northern Territory; and in both the abolition of a range of community based alternative sentences and the introduction of minimum mandatory sentencing in Victoria.

These policies are not based on evidence about 'what works' and the end result of these measures is to place a greater strain on justice systems by increasing the numbers of individuals involved and the extent of their involvement.

How can communities reduce the pressures on the criminal justice systems and, indeed, its citizens?

We believe that it is imperative to address the persistence of disadvantage in many communities throughout Australia. Disadvantage increases the likelihood of involvement in the criminal justice system, a fact demonstrated by previous research by Jesuit Social Services which found that 2.1% of the most disadvantaged postcodes in Victoria, for example, accounted for 25% of prison admissions.

Early next year, Jesuit Social services will be releasing research into children in remand in Victoria. This research identifies that those locations where children start school with developmental vulnerabilities are locations where larger numbers of children receive youth justice orders at younger ages (14 or younger). Other factors of disadvantage that are associated with involvement in the criminal justice system include family breakdown and involvement in child protection; mental illness; drug and alcohol problems; and a lack of engagement in education, training and employment.

Currently our leaders and policy makers are promoting 'tough' approaches to law and order.

Jesuit Social Services' experience, backed by research, is that a more effective approach is to intervene earlier to address the root causes of crime – to address disadvantage; provide the services to prevent family breakdown; have better housing options to respond to homelessness; and ensure all have access to education and training opportunities.

When people do enter the prison system, in order to reduce recidivism and increase community safety, we need to provide humane conditions, including access to treatment services.

If we are to achieve this, there needs to be a shift in our approach. As a community, we need to understand the causes of crime and to implement more effective ways to prevent and respond to offending. We need to use evidence about what actually works in making a safer community. This is our best hope for reducing the pressures that justice systems around Australia are experiencing, and ultimately, for building safer communities.

Just Facts

  • 48% of Victorian prisoners have previously served a custodial sentence in the adult prison system
  • By 2016, it is predicted that there will be a shortage of 1,400 beds in Victoria's prison system
  • In 2010, there is an average of 400 young people on remand in New South Wales a day compared with 225 in the year 2000

Just Reading/Watching

  • Factsheet from Smart Justice on the benefits of justice reinvestment – focusing on the causes of crime.
  • Video of the Northern Territory Police Commissioners press conference regarding the release of crime statistics in the Territory.
  • Report from the University of Exeter in the UK outlining some of the issues of children with acquired brain injuries who are involved in the criminal justice system.

27 August 2012

On the 27th of August, Jesuit Social Services held a Just Leadership breakfast with guest speaker Chris Lowney, renowned author and writer on leadership. Chris spent the morning with Jesuit Social Services staff, volunteers and Board and Committee members, prior to spending the afternoon with the Xavier College community, speaking about the principles of leadership based on the Jesuit tradition and how they can be applied in today's world where leadership is primarily associated with power and getting ahead.

Chris explained that within the Jesuit tradition, a core component of being a good leader is figuring out who you are however that is not fostered in today's world. "People get trained in leadership and the way leadership is presented is an act – how to manipulate people to get a result. We all think that leadership is a destination. Being the boss is a platform – leadership is about how you use it."

Read more about the Just Leadership breakfast with Chris Lowney.

24 August 2012

Over the coming months the Victorian Government will review over 1000 written submissions made as part of its consultation into the future of public housing. The extraordinary level of public response around this issue was also evident through a series of well attended and often heated community meetings, as well as debate in the media over the future of public housing. Jesuit Social Services has been involved in these conversations through our own submission to government and comments made to the media.

The very high level of response to the review of public housing demonstrates the strength of feeling and concern about this issue. In particular, it has emphasised the fundamental importance of housing, and concerns that the housing rights of many families could be put at risk. Perhaps it is not surprising then, that the debate on public housing reform in Victoria has often been emotionally charged. Nevertheless, we have welcomed this conversation and believe that there is a need for a broader conversation on housing affordability as well as the future role of the public housing system.

Public housing in Victoria was originally developed to provide a step up for working families most of whom would move on into private rentals or home ownership. However, changes to government policy, the closure of state mental health, care and other residential institutions in the 1990's and the introduction of segmented waiting lists has meant that ever increasing numbers of individuals with multiple and complex needs now reside in public housing.

A major concern that our organisation had with the Victorian government's discussion paper on public housing was the lack of understanding of the large numbers of individuals in public housing with multiple and complex needs. In particular, the discussion paper outlined measures that could be implemented to address high levels of unemployment in public housing and move residents towards work. This neglected the fact that well over half of public housing residents are either on the aged pension or disability support pension, and are considered unable to participate in the labour market.

Any reforms to public housing must acknowledge the fact that a large group of public housing residents are unlikely to be in a position where they will be able to work. There needs to be a renewed focus on building the capacity of individual residents and providing them with opportunities to more fully engage and participate in the community. There will be some residents who will, with sustained support over time, be able to move towards employment and potentially move out of public housing. However, our concern is that unrealistic measures and expectations around employment may put the housing rights of some of the most vulnerable members of our community at risk.

It is also an imperative that discussion around public housing reform be linked into the broader context of housing reform. Issues with housing affordability have flow-on consequences for public housing. In recent years, higher housing prices have increased demands in the rental market and resulted in higher rental prices. For many low income households, rent can take up to 50% of their weekly income which is significantly more than public housing tenants who pay around 25%.

The government's discussion paper on public housing reform deemed it 'unfair' that public housing tenants pay significantly less rent than low income households in the private rental market. We believe that this misdiagnoses where the unfairness lies. Fundamentally, it is unfair that the housing market denies low income households the opportunity of home ownership and forces them to pay more and more of their income on rent. State, Federal and Local governments have the power to address some of the unfairness in the housing market through reforms to rent assistance, housing supply policy, and tax policies (such as negative gearing).

It is our hope that any eventual reforms to public housing recognise the need for 'bigger picture' housing reform. Without this, inequity in the housing market will persist and increase pressures on the public housing system. There is a risk that some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our community will end up bearing the brunt of these pressures when instead they should be supported to overcome the multiple and complex issues that they face so that they can more fully participate in the life of our community.

Just Facts:

  • 143,000 – the number of social housing tenants in Victoria.
  • 36,940 – the number of households on the public housing waiting list in Victoria in June 2012.
  • 76% - the number of public housing tenancies allocated to households with special needs in 2010-11, up from 35% in 2001-02.
  • 2.8% the percentage of available private rental properties classed as affordable for a single recipient of Newstart allowance in Victoria.

Advocacy Activity:

  • Julie Edwards interviewed for an article by Ian Munro in the Age on public housing reform.
  • Made a submission and accompanying media release to the Victorian Government on its reforms to public housing.
  • Responded to the release of Juvenile Justice in Australia 2010-11 by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare which showed the effectiveness of diversion in youth justice.
  • Welcomed the Prime Minister's speech calling for reforms to electricity prices and expressed concern at the impact of electricity prices on disadvantaged families.

Just Reading/watching:

Sally Parnell, Acting CEO

8 August 2012

In this Mission in Focus episode, Julie Edwards, CEO, provides an overview of the body of wisdom contained in Catholic Social Teaching, with examples of those principles in action and what it means for a Catholic organisation to apply the principles to its service. Mission in Focus is a webcast series published by Catholic Health Australia.


19 July 2012

Just Advocacy

Last week, Melbourne newspapers contained several articles which outlined some of the problems being experienced by young members of various African communities in the Western Suburbs of the city. These articles painted an alarming picture of a group of young people who were disconnected from their families and community, and were increasingly drawn to lives of alcohol, drugs, and crime. The issues raised are of concern to Jesuit Social Services as we have worked with African communities in Melbourne over many years. Our work with the African communities evolved out of our earlier work with the Vietnamese community as their people adjusted to life in Australia during the 1980s and 1990s. From our experience with these communities and other waves of migrants engaging in our programs, we know that the experience of settlement can be challenging, especially for young people. Young migrants, and the children of migrants, often find themselves straddling cultures and having to deal with the complex interplay between the expectations, norms and freedoms of both. This is further complicated for those who have significant histories of trauma.

In reality, problems with young migrants and the children of migrants that attract such negative media attention are neither widespread nor endemic. However, they cannot and should not be denied, excused or explained away. We know from publically available Police statistics that African youth do not represent a substantial law and order problem; of the 50,666 individuals who were dealt with by police for offences in 2010-11, only 338 were Sudanese and 66 were Somali young people (up to 24 years old). The numbers of other young people from other African communities were so low that they were not published in Police Statistics. However, while the problem is small in the context of the wider community, it is still a matter of concern. Alarmingly, young Sudanese migrants are 6.8 times more likely to be processed by the Police for an offence than other young people (rate calculated from 2010-11 Victoria Police Crime Statistics and 2011 ABS Census data).

The complex web of factors that lies behind this problem requires deeper analysis and considered responses. There is no easy solution. However, from our experience of working on a daily basis with new communities and service providers we know that each successive new group of arrivals has experienced difficulties. With the right assistance, members of these communities have gone on to overcome these challenges and make a valuable contribution to our broader community. In order to achieve this success, services to these communities must be well coordinated and there must be ongoing consultation and reflection with community members and leaders. Even in the current situation we are heartened by the leadership being exercised at many levels within Melbourne's various African communities. This is evident in the young Africans that we work with through our African-Australian youth program and homework clubs, as well as rap group Flyphonics, themselves members of the African community, who are working to improve the English language skills of fellow community members.

Importantly, the response of the wider Australian community is also giving us grounds for optimism. Jesuit Social Services has been working in partnership with the National Australia Bank on the African Australian Inclusion Program which is a professional work experience program that has resulted in 72 members of African communities being placed into ongoing employment. Initiatives like this, which build the capacity of individuals and provide them with opportunities to more fully participate in the life of society, give us reason to be hopeful. It is important that issues affecting migrant communities be considered in this wider context of their settlement experience. We will continue to advocate for opportunities for migrant communities and work with them so that they can reach their full potential.

Just Facts

  • 338 – the number of young Sudanese people processed by Victoria Police in 2010-11
  • 2,898 – the total number of young Sudanese migrants in Victoria at the 2011 census
  • 17 – the rate (per 1,000 persons) of young people who were processed by Victoria Police for an offence in 2010-11
  • 6.8 – a young Sudanese migrant was 6.8 times more likely than other young people to be processed by Victoria Police in 2010-11.
  • 90% - the rate of participants of the Jesuit Social Services/National Australia Bank African Australian Inclusion Program who move into ongoing employment after completing the program.

Advocacy Activity

  • Jesuit Social Services made a submission to the Victorian Government on the Draft Victorian State Disability Plan, calling for action to ensure the most vulnerable members of the community benefit from the reforms.
  • Expressed concern at the closure of the New South Wales Youth Drug Court.
  • Daniel Clements and Paul Stewart from the Brosnan Services went on RRR's Detour program where they discussed Youth Justice Group Conferencing.

Just Reading/Watching

You might find of interest the following material which we have read recently:

  • Articles in the Age by Dan Oakes on problems faced by the young African migrants – 'How the West was Lost' and 'African Youths Abandoning Hope'.
  • A segment on ABC 7:30 Victoria on new research into therapeutic care for young people in the state's out of home residential care service.
  • 'Game Changers' a new report from the Grattan Institute on economic reform in Australia.

Julie Edwards, Chief Executive Officer


03 July 2012

Just A Thought

For the past 35 years, Jesuit Social Services has worked with young people who are involved in the criminal justice system. Our practice experience bears out recurring research findings - that many of these young people have had childhoods characterised by high levels of abuse, neglect, and disadvantage. As with much of our work, it is of real concern that it is through the criminal justice system that we end up dealing with the aftermath of a range of social and systemic failures, rather than tackling these problems at their root causes, and preventing the harm - and injustice – experienced by these children. Recent research, presented by Julie Boffa, Jesuit Social Services Policy Manager, at the Connect For Youth Conference in Melbourne sought to identify whether there are earlier points in these young people's lives where we could take action to prevent this adverse trajectory.

We started by considering the age in which young people first come into contact with the justice system. There already exists a body of criminal justice research and theory which suggests there is a group of young people who come into contact with the justice system at an early age and go on to have serious careers as offenders. Our analysis supports this theory. We found that only 21% of young people in detention across Australia were younger than 15, but that nearly half (48%) of the total number of young people in the criminal justice system (10-18 year olds) had their first experience of detention when they were younger than 15. In Victoria, with its established emphasis on diversion and low incarceration rates for young people, the rates are lower but follow the same pattern. Both in Victoria and nationally, the proportions of Indigenous young people first supervised or first detained at these young ages is far greater than for non-Indigenous young Australians. This means that there is a group of young people who enter the criminal justice system at a young age and have repeated involvements as they get older. Stopping this flow as they first present to the youth justice system is imperative.

We then moved onto to see if there was any evidence of other socio-demographic markers that might act as earlier triggers for action with respect to under 15's entering the criminal justice system. Following earlier research into remand by Prof Tony Vinson AM and Dr Matthew Ericson, we found that young people from communities with lower socioeconomic status are overrepresented in the criminal justice system with just 2.6% of Victoria's most disadvantaged postcodes accounting for 25.1% of the state's youth justice population. In these lower socioeconomic postcodes, young people are also more likely to enter the justice system at a younger age. Finally, we analysed government information on developmental vulnerability as measured by performance on the Australian Early Developmental Index as children started school and participation rates with Maternal and Child Health consultations. We discovered significant relationships between the local government areas of younger children entering the youth justice system and areas with higher numbers of developmentally vulnerable children and lower completion rates of maternal and child health consultations.

This does not mean that all young people from low socioeconomic areas, or identified as developmentally vulnerable, or who miss maternal and child health checks, go on to offend. However, it does suggest that these indicators may pose potential triggers for early intervention to improve outcomes for young people, including the small numbers of children who may later come to the attention of the youth justice system. Over the coming months, we will be expanding upon this research and its findings in order to gain a better understanding of what it means, and how it might allow us to more effectively work with young people so that they can live to their full potential.

Just Facts

  • 1056 – the number of young people under the age of 15 who were detained in custody in Australia throughout the year June 2009 - June 2010.
  • 41% - the percentage of young people in the criminal justice system who were first detained before the age of 15.
  • 55% - the percentage of young people in custody in Victoria who were victims of abuse, trauma or neglect.
  • 2.6% - the percentage of postcodes with high levels of disadvantage that account for 25.1% of young people on orders.

Advocacy Activity

Jesuit Social Services has been undertaking the following advocacy activity:

  • Made a presentation on 'Recognising early triggers for action to improve outcomes for young people in the justice system' at the Connectfor Conference.
  • Julie Edwards wrote a letter to the editor calling for our leaders to stop 'playing politics' on the issue of asylum seekers.

Just Reading

You might find of interest the following material which we have read recently:

  • An article in Eureka Street by Frank Brennan SJ on Australia's 20 year search for the right asylum policy
  • A new book on youth justice – 'Evidence Based Policy & Practice in Youth Justice' edited by Anna Stewart, Troy Allard and Susan Dennison
  • An article on bail reform in New South Wales by David Shoebridge

Julie Edwards, Chief Executive Officer

19 June 2012

Just A Thought

Over the past week newspaper pages and radio airwaves in New South Wales have covered moves to reform the state's bail laws following the release of a report on bail reform by the Law Reform Commission. The intensity of debate on bail reforms has been high and there has been some unwelcome sensationalism and scare mongering. We have followed the developments on bail reform with some interest, as it is relevant to our work in criminal justice. There are significant problems with bail laws in New South Wales, most notably restrictions on the ability of offenders to apply for and be granted bail. These have tended to impact disproportionately on young people and homeless persons. Not surprisingly, the result has been a remand rate in New South Wales that is 2.5 times the rate in Victoria.

In our view, the Law Reform Commission report makes recommendations that will result in fairer bail laws, particularly for vulnerable groups such as young people and indigenous Australians. Finding fairness in bail law is difficult as the decision over whether or not to grant someone bail occurs after they have been charged over an offence but before they have been convicted by a court. This means that principles of 'no punishment without conviction' and the 'presumption of innocence' must be balanced against the interests of community safety and minimising risks of further offending. The proposed changes to the Bail Act in NSW will adopt a risk management approach to bail decision-making and in doing so strike a better balance between the competing demands of individual justice and community safety. Other parts of the reforms will remove unnecessary hurdles to bail which have resulted in more people, especially young people, spending time in custody without being convicted of a crime.

It must be noted that reforms to bail laws, on their own, are unlikely to make the community safer or generate savings in expenditure on prisons. The type of reforms proposed in New South Wales will only be fully effective when combined with other measures that promote community safety by addressing the causes of offending, diverting low risk offenders from the justice system, and rehabilitating serious offenders. Efforts to prevent crime and rehabilitate offenders will often involve addressing complex issues including low levels of income and educational attainment, housing problems, mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, marginalisation within the community, or involvement in the child protection system. Many of these problems are entrenched in particular communities, with research conducted by Jesuit Social Services revealing that 2.5% of postcodes in Victoria perform poorly on a range of these social indicators, and that these postcodes account for 25% of 18-21 year olds who are remanded in custody. These factors should not be used to excuse offending, but they often provide a context that explains offending. The need to address these issues was identified in last week's New South Wales state budget which included some welcome funding for prisoner rehabilitation programs and drug and alcohol services.

However, in New South Wales there is a need for a range of criminal justice and community safety reforms that go beyond bail and the budget investments. In the area of policing, there must be a renewed emphasis on meaningful engagement with the community and in particular on meaningful engagement with people when they are on bail. Where young people come into contact with the justice system, efforts must be made to support them to deal with any problematic behavioural issues and support them in reconnecting with community. Individuals who are released from custody (either on bail, parole or release) must be offered support with accommodation. And individuals serving prison sentences must be supported in their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. From our experiencing working in the Victorian justice system, we have seen how this approach results in lower levels of people going into prison, lower expenditure on criminal justice and ultimately a lower crime rate.

Just Facts

  • 2.5 – The rate of unsentenced prisoners per head of population in New South Wales is two and a half times that of Victoria.
  • 2,500 – the number of unsentenced prisoners in New South Wales in 2010, compared to 700 in 1995.
  • 38% - the percentage of young people in remand in New South Wales who are Indigenous when Indigenous young people make up just over 4% of the total population of young people
  • 9.5 days – the average length of stay for a young person in remand in New South Wales
  • $743 million – Expenditure on Prisons in New South Wales in the Year 2010-11, compared to $431 million in Victoria.
  • 90,400 – the number of Victorians (2% of the population) who were victims of assault in 2010-11 compared to 2.8% (164,400) in New South Wales

Advocacy Activity

Jesuit Social Services has been undertaking the following advocacy activities:

  • We responded to the release of the 2012-13 New South Wales Budget
  • Our submissions and testimony were cited in the final report of the Victorian Parliament's Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee's Inquiry into Locally Based Approaches to Community Safety and Crime Prevention.
  • We made a submission as part of the consultation into the development of legislation for a secure care service for young people in the Northern Territory
  • We attended a speech at the Pratt Foundation by the Hon. Tony Abbot, Leader of the Federal Opposition.

Just Reading

We have read the following interesting articles recently:

  • The New South Wales Law Reform Commission's report into the Bail Act.
  • A Fact Sheet by the Australian Institute of Family Studies outlining the rise in the numbers of children in out of home care in Australia.
  • Three Short Stories About Refugees in Australia which appeared in Eureka Street
  • Analysis of the New South Wales State Budget in New Matilda

Julie Edwards, Chief Executive Officer

05 June 2012

Just A Thought

Early last Tuesday, over 200 members of Melbourne's business community came together in the city for a unique business breakfast. This breakfast didn't involve pleasing customers, making deals or discussing high finance. Instead, Pamela Webb, Director of Jesuit Social Services' Just Leadership initiative convened a conversation between outgoing Chair of the Social Inclusion Board and Jesuit Social Services Chairman, Patricia Faulkner and Cameron Clyne, CEO of the National Australia Bank (NAB). Both speakers were invited to talk about their visions of what the socially responsible corporation of 2020 might look like. In their answers, Patricia and Cameron emphasised the need for business to contribute towards building a more equal and just society. This required a change from an approach where Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is seen as a separate part of business operations, to an approach where the idea of doing what was right for society is central to the processes and operations of businesses. A key aspect of this was the need for individuals to take leadership, responsibility and action to bring about change rather than leaving it to others.

Clearly, there is a desire amongst individuals and organisations within the private sector to contribute to efforts to address inequality and injustice. However, as Cameron Clyne from NAB correctly acknowledged at the Just Leadership Breakfast, identifying shared values that are good for business and the community is not always easy, and can be a confusing and challenging process. Occasionally shared values can be clear, an example being social investing which realises both financial and social returns for investors. However, there are many complex social issues which do not have easily identifiable financial outcomes.

Jesuit Social Services runs a range of programs that emphasise this, most notably our work with young people with drug and alcohol or mental health issues. We believe that the absence of clear financial reasons for dealing with certain social issues should not lead to a failure to take action in favour of dealing with problems where there is a more easily realised shared value. There are a range of reasons for taking action to address entrenched social problems, many of which do not relate to the economic value of action. However, work in these areas demonstrates the broader values of society and our commitment to those most in need.

Just Facts

  • 66% - the percentage of people around the world in recent research who prefer to buy services and products from companies that have implemented programs to give back to society
  • 65% - the number of American students in a recent survey who expect to make a positive social or environmental difference in the world at some point through their work
  • 2,995,000 – the number of adult Australian's who have just one, or no mainstream financial services

Advocacy Activity

Jesuit Social Services has been undertaking the following advocacy activities:

  • We have released new research on factors that influence the happiness of Australians
  • Last week we attended an ACOSS Post-Budget event where the Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan spoke on the impact of the budget for disadvantaged
  • We are currently undertaking research into the experience of young people (10-18 year olds) on remand in Victoria. This will build on earlier Jesuit Social Services research into young adults (18-24 year olds) on remand
  • Our submission to the Sentencing Advisory Council's inquiry into baseline sentences featured in the final report on this issue

Just Reading

We have read the following interesting articles recently:

Julie Edwards, Chief Executive Officer