For a smart bloke, WA’s Attorney-General Christian Porter has some pretty dumb ideas. Take this week’s cracker, for example — Prohibited Behaviour Orders, applied by a prosecuting authority on top of a sentence, criminalising normal behaviour for the order’s subject. For example, if your council bangs you to rights for a noisy dog, a PBO can make it illegal for you to simply own one. If you’ve been done for graffiti, just holding a Texta can send you to jail.

Who needs roads, schools or hospitals when you can imprison someone for a dog?

PBOs are based on the failed British model of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. In the UK, it was found that after 10 years the laws did nothing other than give the impression that the government was trying to do something about crime, while doing nothing at all. It shouldn’t surprise anyone though; the recycling of failed UK policy has been a hallmark of the Barnett Liberals. Exhibit A — stop-and-search laws.

It gets better. The PBO laws compel courts to publish on the web photographs, names and suburbs of juveniles 16 years and over. Predictably, this labels young people for the rest of their lives, reducing the likelihood of the offenders rehabilitating themselves, getting a job or becoming in any way productive members of the community.

But still, it gets better. The laws provide no resources to enforce PBOs, instead shifting responsibility for reporting breaches to members of the public; i.e. the government expects that the public will be scanning the PBO website and then reporting individuals who breach their orders. Following this report, the government expects police to drop what they’re doing and rush round in time to catch the individual in the act of a breach of order … oh, while at the same time not expecting a rise in vigilantism.

PBOs are a fraud — nothing more, nothing less. The government wants to “look like it is doing something tough” by selling the community a dangerous snake oil.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, at the same time as debating this legislation in the Assembly, the Attorney-General announced the cancellation of the Family Intensive Team, an award-winning, multisystemic program based on 30 years of overseas research that targeted the worst juvenile offenders — the very individuals supposedly addressed by the PBO legislation. Legislation, of course, which offers no tool other than imprisonment to change behaviour.

It couldn’t possibly get any worse.

Is it any surprise that WA’s current prison population is 4700, having grown by nearly 800 since the Barnett government came to office? If you assume $100,000 per prisoner per year (the figure quoted by the Inspector of Custodial Services and the Chief Justice), that means recurrent costs of operating prisons have grown by $77.5 million a year, not to mention the more than $600 million spent on building new prison infrastructure. All for absolutely nothing.

The sad thing in all this is, WA’s Liberals are well behind the times. The UK is throwing out its stop-and-search and PBO laws already — they didn’t work. NSW is abandoning the childish squabble over “toughness”, with Liberal shadow Attorney-General Greg Smith advocating a shift from that juvenile debate to a serious one about outcomes and delivery. But still Barnett’s government flogs political alchemy at the cost of sensible, honest solutions.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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