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Turning potential offenders into valued members of society

Media Release

20 October 1999

The promotion of social capital is the best form of crime prevention, according to the Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, Dr Adam Graycar.

In an address to be given at the Australian Crime Prevention Council's 19th Biennial International Conference on Preventing Crime at the Carlton Crest Hotel in Melbourne today, Dr Graycar will say that crime prevention is about turning potential offenders into good citizens.

Dr Graycar says that changes in our social and economic structures have left many people without traditional roles that provide a sense of belonging and of being valued. In particular, the mismatch between young people's abilities and available roles has undermined our cohesion as a society.

"While the community often calls for longer prison terms for offenders, this is costly to the public purse and there are more cost-effective, preventative solutions. Although it may be appropriate to incarcerate high-risk and hardened criminals, there is no benefit to the community or to taxpayers in locking up young, low-risk offenders", Dr Graycar says.

"The doubling of our prison population over the past decade is surely proof of this. It costs us as a community over $50,000 per year for every person imprisoned, not to mention the emotional and financial costs to victims and the community.

"And when prisoners are released the costs continue, with the provision of social security payments, which are sometimes life-long. Wouldn't we all be much better off if we could turn people at risk of offending into productive taxpayers?" Dr Graycar asks.

According to Dr Graycar, social capital is the shared values, networks and trust that enable people to communicate effectively and to cooperate in the pursuit of common goals, creating a society that is rich in social capital and a civil place in which to live.

Dr Graycar says that we can create social capital by investing in appropriate social development activities - primary health care, early childhood supports, and education and training - not only to create jobs but to give people a stake in their community.

We need partnerships between government, business, community and family to create projects, strategies, networks and committees to prevent violence and crime. And we need to develop and expand opportunities for all people to live, work and play without feeling threatened or harassed.

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