Tough approach to crime doesn't work, claims Deakin expert

Research news
01 July 2015
Professor Andrew Day has found that longer prison sentences only exacerbate problems.

In a recent article in “The Conversation,” Deakin Psychology Professor Andrew Day has argued that the increasingly popular responses to crime that rely solely on punishment and longer prison sentences are not making our communities safer.

Instead, they are producing an expanded prison system, putting additional strain on government budgets, and making it much harder for offenders to rehabilitate into the community.

Professor Day said that the longer offenders stay in jail, the greater their chances of re-offending and the more difficulties they face on their release.

“Pyschologists have been studying the effect of punishment on humans and animals for nearly 100 years,” he said.

“We know that the threat of punishment, no matter how severe, will not deter anyone who believes they can get away with it. It will also not deter those who are too overcome by emotion or disordered thinking to care about the consequences of their behaviour.”

In his “Conversation” article, Professor Day emphasises the importance of reducing contact between low and high risk offenders - through diverting low risk offenders from prison to community-based rehabilitation, for instance.

He also highlights the need to develop innovative programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, who are “grossly over-represented” across the criminal justice system, and the importance of ensuring that rehabilitation staff are highly trained, and that national evaluation programs are introduced that demonstrate the effectiveness of specific rehab programs.

“While not suggesting that there is no place for punishment, the challenges lie in ensuring that the right programs are delivered to the right people at the right time,” he said.

“We need to create a true system of rehabilitation that can enhance the corrective impact of punishment-based approaches.”

Professor Day is currently working with other Centre for Social and Early Emotional Development researchers at Deakin on ARC-funded projects to: develop more effective ways of managing high risk offenders in the community (with Professors Joe Graffam and Martine Powell, and Dr Sharon Casey); improve the outcomes of compulsory drug treatment (with Dr Sharon Casey); and understand the role that employment programs play in prisoner reintegration (with Professors Joe Graffam and Jane McGillivray).

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