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Priest says jail being used for wrong purpose

Authorities are increasingly using the criminal justice system as a substitute for education and health services by sending young people with drug and mental health problems to prison, says Jesuit priest Fr Peter Norden.

The Melbourne-based priest, who is Jesuit Social Services director, told The Catholic Weekly that figures showing Australia's prison population has increased by 50% in the past decade - from 15,000 in 1991 to almost 22,500 by June last year.

And the imprisonment rate has increased by 28%, rising from 117 to 151 prisoners per 100,000 members of the adult population.

"Authorities are over-relying on the criminal justice system to serve the needs of the community," Fr Norden said.

He said many young people with drug and mental health problems were being imprisoned where they were exposed to a "hard-core" criminal element.

"They will probably be released from prison at greater risk to the community."

More than half of those imprisoned have been incarcerated before, he added.

"We have an economically irrational policy in regard to prisons in Australia," Fr Norden said.

"It's not rehabilitating, it's debilitating."

Jesuit Social Services

Catholic Weekly

11 Apr 2002