One month out from the New South Wales election, Jesuit Social Services says that the recent winding back of bail reforms and the introduction of mandatory sentencing undermine promising work in the criminal justice space in the past five years.

In its recently released state election platform Building a just and safe NSW, the organisation warns both major parties that an undue reliance on incarceration is both costly and ineffective.

“Earlier reforms by governments of both political persuasions have shown that it is possible to reduce New South Wales’ prison population without crime levels increasing,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“There is little evidence that ‘tough on crime’ initiatives like harsher sentencing regimes actually improve community safety. To the contrary, imprisonment often exacerbates the underlying issues that lead people to offend in the first place.”

NSW’s prison population declined by 8 per cent between 2009 and 2012 before increasing to 10,426 in late 2014. At the same time, latest figures show that 42.7 per cent of offenders return to prison within two years of release, demonstrating the significant number of people who become stuck in the revolving door of the prison system.

“These extra costs to the taxpayer are significant, given the average annual cost of keeping somebody in prison in NSW exceeds $65,000,” says Ms Edwards.

The organisation has called for renewed effort to develop alternatives to incarceration, such as an increased focus on diversion to maximise rehabilitation opportunities and strengthening the role of judicial discretion.

“We also urge the next state government to commit to reducing the reoffending rate by 15 per cent over the next four years, which can be achieved by sustained investments into services including housing, health and education. The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR) has found that a reduction of even 10 per cent has the potential to save $28 million a year, also leading to better outcomes for people constantly cycling in and out of the justice system thereby creating safer communities.”

Other initiatives proposed in the organisation’s election platform include investment into programs with demonstrated records of improving the school readiness of children from disadvantaged families and a strengthening of existing efforts to address youth disengagement from education.