First, let us reflect on a few key numbers:
- In 1995, the prison population of NSW was sitting at somewhere between 6000 and 7000. When Labor hand back the keys in a few weeks, that number will be pushing through 11 000;
- In 1994, the rate at which we imprisoned New South Welshmen and women was 167.8 per 100, 000. In 2011, it had risen to 196, which is almost double the rate of Victoria at 105;
- The percentage of NSW prisoners on remand (unsentenced) rose from 9.6% to 22.8% in the same period;
- In 2010, NSW's Budget for Corrective Services exceeded $1 billion;To appreciate the results of the Labor regime, it worth reflecting on the premiership of Bob Carr, under whom it all began. Most will recall that Carr came to power, and was re-elected twice, on the foundation of successful law and order campaigns. The phrase "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", although borrowed from Tony Blair, became firmly associated with his image, and also his agenda.
Indeed, Carr had no closer ally in his pursuit and retention of power than one Laura Norder; an alliance that went on to make fundamental and lasting change to the NSW criminal justice system. Most notably, sentencing laws were radically amended with the introduction of standard non-parole periods for a range of serious offences. The slow restriction of the law in relation to bail also began, making it much more difficult for accused persons to obtain liberty before matters finalise.
Carr, already an author with "Faultlines", is now a keen blogger and tweeter (@bobjcarr), and seems well aware his legacy is in the process of being assessed. In recent times, the early shots fired by Bob on his blog have been fascinating.
He recently cited with approval the British MP, John Spellar, who described the middle-portion of the electorate as follows:
They are law abiding and expect others to play by the rules. They want to live in a peaceful, orderly neighbourhood. If they do not, then they are hostile, both to the perpetrators and the authorities who permit it to happen.Later Carr said in the same post:
By the way, the reason I adhered to explicit law and order policies as Premier was to hold the support of working class people who expect Labor governments to keep their streets safe and lock up the criminals who degrade life, especially in public housing estates, making existence hell for law-abiding citizens. If Labor parties spend more time apologising for the wrong-doers than they do backing law enforcement and community safety they run the danger of being crushed in a right-wing populist backlash.With these words, Carr concedes what I imagine many have long thought, namely, that the objectives of his criminal justice policies were purely political: to soothe what he imagined to be a populace hostile to wrongdoers, to avoid a populist backlash, and retain power.
That he avoided a backlash by introducing his very own populist policies to lock up increasing numbers of people? Well, it seems that was just the necessary price to be paid. I mean better us than them, right?
The very narrow justification of his policies also seems to suggest he might have pursued another course had the Opposition not forced him into it. You see, it was all their fault!
In 2011, however, the Coalition appear to have distanced themselves from previous campaigns and policies, going so far as to explicitly reject a "law and order auction" election. So where does this leave Labor and the Carr Doctrine of Criminal Justice? How will ALP policies be justified in the absence of Opposition muck-raking?
The answer will be found in the current AG, John Hatzistergos, who can always be relied upon to defend Labor's record. Indeed, the Hatman rarely misses an opportunity to "make no apology" for their tough stance on crime, and increasing prison numbers, which he will claim are responsible for making us safer.
RG intends to examine his policies, as well as those of the Shadow Attorney-General Greg Smith, in the coming weeks.