The Prisoners Legal Service Tasmania believes the new correctional facility in the state's North could be part of a "global movement" towards treating prisons as health, education and life skills centres - and it should be built near Launceston, not Westbury.
PLST chair Greg Barns SC gave a presentation in Deloraine on Sunday outlining the causes and consequences of Tasmania's growing reoffending rate, and how the overcrowded Risdon Prison was failing to keep Tasmanians safe.
Independent MLC Tania Rattray then invited Mr Barns to give the same presentation to all upper house members in an attempt to pressure the government into pursuing a "smart justice" model for the new prison, or "Northern centre".
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Mr Barns said building a new prison flew in the face of the Liberal Party's mantra of being "better economic managers", detailing how the cost of incarceration at the moment was far greater than providing comprehensive rehabilitation options.
"Who would disagree with the proposition that prisons are very expensive? It's $300 a day to house a prisoner. Community corrections is about $20 a day," he said.
"You get much better bang for your buck with community corrections and rehabilitation. These are scarce taxpayer resources that ought to be used wisely by governments."
A Productivity Commission report found that 47 per cent of Tasmania's prisoners were back behind bars within two years - up from 39 per cent five years ago. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that 54 per cent of prisoners are released into homelessness and 78 per cent into unemployment.
"If they have to be segmented away from the community, you want them to go somewhere that's not a jail, you want them to go somewhere that focuses on education, health, life skills and ... through-care - making sure they don't end up on the street, making sure they don't breach family violence orders, making sure that they've got employment opportunities," Mr Barns said.
As the next Australian jurisdiction proposing a new prison, Tasmania could join a "global movement" away from prisons as purely a punitive method, Mr Barns said. He provided examples in Norway, the United States and Scotland, while New Zealand has promised not to build any more prisons.
Pat Burton, who helps run the Just Desserts Drug Court Incentives Program, said his experiences with prisoners indicated that the prison system was not serving its purpose.
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He said Tasmania should follow the ACT's lead, which has a target of reducing its recidivism rate to 25 per cent by 2023.
"We could and should follow their lead," Mr Burton said. "This money proposed to build a prison could be far better spent on health, education and community programs, most notably early intervention."
About 50 attendees at the presentation were told that the government did not have a "social license" to build the prison near Westbury, given the community opposition.
Lyons MHA Guy Barnett - who has an electorate office in Deloraine - said the government had undertaken "a lot of consultation and feedback" with the community and the current site was "going through due diligence".
He said the prison would create jobs and investment for the region.
Investigative drilling is set to start at the proposed prison site at Brushy Rivulet on Monday after the federal Environment Department accepted Tasmania's Justice Department's "self-assessment" that the works would not impact a nearby wedge-tailed eagle's nest.