Chief Justice says fighting homelessness a key step in tackling crime

Chief Justice Wayne Martin. Photo: The West Australian.
Chief Justice Wayne Martin. Photo: The West Australian.

WESTERN Australia’s Chief Justice Wayne Martin has said providing housing and support to those in need would have a marked impact on the number of people entering the criminal justice system.

Justice Martin, who was appointed to the Supreme Court of Western Australia in 2006, said a lot of people enter the justice system not because they are “fundamentally bad or evil”, but rather through a conspiracy of circumstances.

He also identified homelessness as a chief reason why people released from prison find themselves back inside.

“Homeless people are not well-equipped to deal with the complexities of the justice system,” Justice Martin said.

MORE: Joondalup, Wanneroo team up to tackle homelessness

“If arrested they find it difficult to achieve bail because they don’t have anywhere to live.

“If they are granted bail it is difficult for them to communicate with legal advisors or with the courts because they don’t have an address to which mail can be sent.”

Justice Martin said the hardships endured by homeless people contributed to their entering the criminal system.

“A homeless person might have mental health issues, they might be self-medicating with drugs, which compounds the issue relating to homelessness,” he said.

Justice Martin said housing support needs to be provided to people before they enter a downward spiral into crime.

“It would reduce the prospect of them offending in the first place,” he said.

“If you take some of the nuisance offences, like public drinking and disorderly conduct, things of that kind –these offences are often generated because the person simply doesn’t have a home to do the things that other members of the community normally do.

“In addition, providing a home offers a base from which a person’s therapeutic needs can be met.”

And Justice Martin said it would be cheaper in the long run to offer accommodation support to those recently released from jail.

“Prisons are very expensive places to keep people,” Justice Martin said.

“We know that people who are released from prison to homelessness return to prison at about twice the rate of people who are released to a home.

“It costs about $120,000 a year to keep an adult prisoner in prison and more than $350,000 for juveniles.

“So, it’s cheaper to provide that person with a home than it is to release them into circumstances where a return to prison is a very high prospect.”