Urgent Action Needed To Fix Australia’s Emerging Incarceration Crisis

Written by:
11 November 2022
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“Australia’s sentencing policies are causing mass-incarceration, imposing significant social and economic costs on the community, and not delivering the justice outcomes we deserve,” said Professor Mirko Bagaric, the Dean of Law at the Swinburne University of Technology Law School.

Today, the Institute of Public Affairs released a new research report, Australia’s Emerging Incarceration Crisis: Proposed Reforms of the Australian Sentencing System, where empirical data demonstrates that current sentencing policies are not achieving key objectives, with the problem becoming more acute.

The research found:

  • Australia’s incarceration rate now sits at 214 prisoners per 100,000 adult population, a near record high.
  • Since a low in 1984, Australia’s incarceration rate has increased by over 4% per year, which is three times Australia’s population growth rate.
  • On current trends, Australia’s incarceration rate could reach 300 prisoners per 100,000 adults by 2030, which would be inside the top five for OECD nations.
  • It now costs Australian taxpayers $135,000 annually to lock up each prisoner, which is growing every year.

“In order to improve the sentencing system, it is necessary to reassess the current aims of sentencing, consider the principle of proportionality, harmonise aggravating and mitigating considerations, establish standard penalties for key offence types and introduce new criminal sanctions,” said Professor Bagaric.

“The experience in the United States of the past decade shows that incarceration numbers can be reduced without compromising community safety, in a way that delivers savings to the budget bottom line of governments and gets more people into work.”

“The money saved from reduced incarceration rates can be re-invested into schools, roads, and hospitals, and paying down Australia’s rapidly growing public debt.”

“At a time of severe worker shortages, we should be asking the question whether low risk and non-violent offenders should be languishing in jail or making a positive contribution to our community?”

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