Building Communities Not Prisons

building communities not prisons

While crime rates are going down, incarceration rates are going up. A growing population, together with more awareness around domestic, family and sexual assault are part of the story. More effective policing strategies, reduced rates of bail, social issues like unemployment, poverty and family trauma, particularly among young people, also have an impact.

As imprisonment rates rise, the challenges for housing growing rates of detainees is also going to increase. By building communities, not prisons, we can act to ensure that we support individuals to break the criminal justice cycle and help keep our community safe.

That’s where Justice Reinvestment comes in. It is about developing a smarter, more cost-effective approach to improving criminal justice outcomes by reducing crime and diverting offenders, and those at risk of becoming offenders, from the criminal justice system. Our Justice Reinvestment program, 'Building Communities, Not Prisons', includes:


Restorative practices: Provide a framework of practices within human services, with the aim to build healthy communities, increase social capital, decrease crime and antisocial behaviour, repair harm and restore relationships.

Human rights: Under the Human Rights Act 2004 noone may be deprived of liberty, except on the grounds and in accordance with the procedures established by law.

Trauma informed: It is important to contextualise offending within experiences of intergenerational trauma, family and sexual violence, child removal, mental illness, disability, and poverty. Informed practices are needed that provide alternatives to incarceration, including holistic, trauma-informed diversion programs for people who have experienced deep and intergenerational trauma.

Evidence informed: Initiatives will bring together data, evaluations and stakeholder views in order to support Government decisions to invest in what works in order to reduce crime and reoffending while increasing community safety and strengthening communities.

Gender informed: The number of female detainees in prisons in Australia is growing at a rate faster than that of men, which necessitates focusing on female offenders and how to rehabilitate and address their criminogenic and life needs while in custody. The challenges women face while in prison are considerably greater than men, involving high levels of trauma including family and sexual violence and highly disadvantaged backgrounds. The impacts on women in custody are further reaching if they are primary carers (of either children or parents).

Cultural integrity: It is important to take into account the unique systemic and historical factors affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Services need to build cultural capacity and to provide cultural advice as to what works in reducing offending. These efforts must be based on an understanding of the modern day impacts of historical colonisation and dispossession of land and culture.

Justice Reinvestment pillars

Justice accommodation options: A multi-component response is needed to meet the diverse needs of people involved in or at risk of being involved in the criminal justice system. This includes short term, culturally sensitive, transitional accommodation and longer term supported accommodation.

Responding to the impacts of drug and alcohol dependence: The National Drug Strategy 2017-2026 identifies individuals in contact with the criminal justice system as a priority group. More treatment programs are needed to address alcohol and drug related offending, its harmful health effects on detainees, and the related harm that impacts on families and communities.

Early support for people living with a mental illness or disability: The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has reported almost half of prison entrants (49 per cent) have a mental health disorder, and more than 1 in 4 (27 per cent) are on medication for a mental health disorder.

Pathways for safe and sustainable bail: A significant proportion of people held on remand do not receive a custodial sentence upon conviction. More options are required that will allow release on bail with effective conditions for people who do not represent a serious risk of offending.

Reducing the over-representation of aboriginal and torres strait islander people in the justice system: Over-representation is both a persistent and growing problem with incarceration rates increasing by 51 per cent across Australia between 2012 and 2018. The degree of urgency in the ACT is more acute with a 135 per cent increase over the same period. In the ACT, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults make up 1.9 per cent of the ACT population and 22 per cent of the ACT prison population.

Community building capabilities: System wide capabilities are critical to the success of driving the broad range of BCNP initiatives, considering the complex profile of ACT offenders and their needs.


Place-based: Understanding the crime reduction and community strengthening impacts of programs and supports that are provided in the same location as the people who need them. An example of this pathway is Strong Connected Neighbourhoods Program on Ainslie Avenue and Illawarra Court.

Point in the system: Looking at crucial points in the justice system, for example arrest, bail and remand, where a change to that part of the justice system could reduce a person’s future contact with the justice system. An example is undertaking Restorative Justice as a diversion or post-sentence.

Cohort: Focusing efforts on a particular group (such as parolees, persistent offenders or high and complex needs families) who are in constant contact with justice system and targeting services and support to that group. An example is the Yarrabi Bamirr, family centric support model.

Cost model

cost model plan

The ACT Justice System Cost Model is part of an ACT specific evidence base under the Justice Reinvestment Strategy. It is an innovative system-wide approach to costing the ACT’s justice system from the point of apprehension to detention. This evidence base includes an overall baseline of the costs and drivers of crime for both adults and youths in the justice system and projects those costs into the future (over nine years to 2025/26).

The following 'Building Communities, Not Prisons' initiatives are currently underway:

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