Often you will hear me in Parliament, through columns or our newsletter, raise ‘conversations we need to have’. These are the ones often regarding complex or conflicting decision-making. Last year, in response to inbox concerns surrounding the overcrowding of prisons, and the decriminalisation of recreational drugs, we researched, wrote to Ministers and asked questions.
With the volume of Queenslanders in prison due to low-risk illicit drugs such as cannabis for personal use and the costs of imprisoning these low custody offenders (which is up to $2000 per week), the question is – why are we reticent to decriminalise, even though it has been successful in other States, and has just been recommended in a recent report by the Queensland Productivity Commission (QPC)?
In Qld today, our prisons have the highest rate of incarceration of non-violent offenders in Australia, the majority of these sentences being for repeat low-risk offences. Once a prisoner enters the system, they are 50 per cent more likely to re-offend within two years due to multiple factors including difficulties reestablishing networks, gaining work and community acceptance due to the shame and stigma of being incarcerated.
The rate of incarceration has increased by more than 160 per cent since 1992, over 62 per cent of these custodial sentences for non-violent offenders. So, what does this all mean? Our prisons are overflowing with non-violent offenders. These low-risk offenders could be contributing through community service for fire mitigation, pathway construction, environmental and other projects that would benefit communities. If the current trend continues, the government will need to build approximately 4,200 additional cells by 2025 at a cost of around $3.6 billion. In contrast, moving to a regulated decriminalised recreational drugs system, is reported to result in a net benefit of around $850 million to the State.
Studies undertaken in other States and countries where they have relaxed the criminalisation of illicit drugs have shown very little to no increase in usage rates. Research indicates that the prohibition of illicit drugs has never worked and in fact, leads to the supply of more harmful and addictive substances through the black market.
Last year during our annual community survey, over 86 per cent of residents supported decriminalisation of cannabis for personal use and 85 per cent supported community service programs in lieu of prison sentences for low-risk offenders to alleviate overcrowding prisons. The question is – why is Government rejecting what seems to be in line with Queenslanders thoughts, as well the recommendations of the Productivity Report? Over to you!