The West

Homeless need help, not prison
Action call: Chief Justice Wayne Martin wants to keep the homeless out of prison. Picture: The West Australian

Chief Justice Wayne Martin has urged the State Government to develop more social welfare programs to deal with homeless people and their problems, rather than build more prisons to lock them up.

In a speech as part of Perth's Homeless Persons Week, Justice Martin said on a purely economic level, dealing with the causes rather than the fallout of homelessness would make sense.

And he also told delegates at the high-level conference in Perth that money spent on the varied causes of homelessness would make WA communities safer than more jail cells.

Figures highlighted by campaigners this week have revealed nearly 10,000 people are homeless in WA every night - 25 per cent of them children.

With one homeless person costing society nearly $30,000 a year - and $6000 of that being spent by the justice system - Justice Martin said finding solutions to a person's homelessness, rather than punishing offences stemming from it, should be the court's future focus.

"If those factors and the person's homelessness are not successfully addressed, further offending is inevitable," Justice Martin said.

The Chief Justice gave a practical example of the problems homelessness could cause the courts, with one defendant receiving 463 move-on notices since 2006.

Prosecutors wanted the man banned from some areas of the CBD but a magistrate refused.

Justice Martin admitted that courts were not well equipped to deal with homeless problems.

"Criminalising homelessness is an ineffective and extremely expensive response to a social problem," he said.

"Money spent on programs aimed at reducing homelessness and the problems often associated with homelessness, like mental illness, substance abuse and domestic violence, is much more likely to reduce crime and make our community safer than the vast amounts of money we are spending on police, courts and prisons."

The West Australian

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