Visible Means of Support: Responding to the Reintegration Challenges of Rising Prison Populations

Matthew Willis

Australian Institute of Criminology

Matthew Willis is a Research Manager at the Australian Institute of Criminology, where has been for fourteen years.
His main research areas are crime, justice and community safety issues in Indigenous communities, correctional policy and practice and juvenile justice. He has conducted evaluations of a range of criminal justice programs and responses and is currently leading evaluations of national responses to radicalisation, extremism and grievance-fuelled violence.

Matthew’s previous research with the Institute has included homelessness amongst ex-prisoners, bushfire arson and federal offences. He has delivered numerous peer reviewed publications, consultancy reports, conference presentations and media interviews across his topic areas.
Matthew has operational management and policy experience with a range of Australian and ACT government justice agencies, including four years with ACT Corrective Services.

In recent years the criminal justice system across Australia has been dominated by two paradoxical phenomena – rising prison populations and falling crime rates.

The number of prisoners in Australia has increased by nearly 50 percent in the last 10 years, from 28,329 in 2009 to 42,974 in 2018. This growth has been most acute in the last five years and has particularly been seen among unsentenced prisoners and among women - at the latest prison census, one-third of people in Australian prisons were unsentenced. This growth has been disproportionately in a limited number of offence types and occurred alongside continual reductions in recorded crime rates, particularly for property crime.

The rapid growth in prisoner populations creates a range of challenges for reintegration. The nature of the growth raises the prospect of an increasing churn of some individuals through the correctional system. Many remanded prisoners will be sentenced to the time they have already served and will be released with little preparation and without correctional supervision or support in the community. Where bail is granted, it is often with conditions that are hard to meet and can place additional strains on service providers.

Drawing on research conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology, this paper will examine some of the ways these reintegration challenges can be met, including through the provision of bail support services, and the provision of supported housing for people released from prison. It will draw on experiences in Australia, New Zealand and other comparable countries and provide a basis for further discussions of reintegration challenges and responses throughout the conference.