Criminal Justice Reform Needed To Refocus Resources Into Better Community Safer Outcomes

Written by:
14 June 2024
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“As violent crime increases across Australia, wholesale criminal justice reform is required to ensure resources can be directed to prevent crime and ensure those who pose an ongoing safety risk to the community are locked up for longer, with alternative punishment implemented for non-violent offenders,” said Mia Schlicht, Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.

Today, the IPA released new research, The Cost of Prisons in Australia: 2024, which details the rise in incarceration across the nation, its costs, and what can be done to reduce prison numbers while protecting the community. The research found: (tables over page)

  • State and federal governments are now spending over $6.4 billion per year on the construction and operation of prisons.
    • Spending on prisons has almost doubled over the past decade nationwide.
  • Over the past decade, the total number of adult prisoners has increased by 30 per cent.
  • The national incarceration rate is now 205.7 per 100,000 of the adult population.
  • It now costs taxpayers on average $153,895 per year to house a single prisoner.
  • 38 per cent of prisoners in Australia are incarcerated for non-violent crimes.
    • Each year $2.4 billion is spent incarcerating offenders who pose a low risk to community safety.

“Community safety can be strengthened if the $2.4 billion currently spent on locking up non-violent offenders is redirected to crime prevention, and ensuring there is room in prisons to enable violent offenders to be sentenced for longer,” said Ms Schlicht.

The IPA’s research suggests several reforms, which acknowledges the difference between violent offenders who pose a risk to community safety, and non-violent offenders whose incarceration sees little overall safety benefit, including:

  • Offender employment programs – As Australia’s worker shortage crisis continues, willing employers would be able to hire non-violent offenders. This paid, full-time work would be in lieu of a period incarceration.
  • Financial sanctions – Many non-violent crimes are financially motivated; an offender super-taxation levy would see victims paid back what was stolen and substantial additional fines paid by the offender as punishment, ensuring crime does not pay.
  • Technological incarceration – Electronic monitoring should be advanced as a criminal sanction for non-violent offenders who pose little safety risk, ensuring the cost of incarceration in a prison is not passed on to taxpayers.

“If Australia’s incarceration rates continue on the current trajectory, more prisons will need to be rapidly built at a significant cost. Non-violent offenders, who pose little risk to the community, should be working and paying back the community for their crime, rather than being a burden on the taxpayer,” said Ms Schlicht.

“Conservative jurisdictions in the United States, such as Texas and Georgia, have found by applying alternative punishments for non-violent offenders, not only does it save taxpayers’ money, but also improves community safety by freeing up resources to incarcerate violent criminals for longer.”

“Evidence shows the most effective deterrent to violent crime is the fear of being caught and facing any form of punishment. Putting more police on the beat with the savings is a common sense sentencing reform which will boost community safety,” said Ms Schlicht.

Recurrent government expenditure on prisons in 2012-13 and 2022-23

Incarceration rate in Australia per 100,000 of the adult population

Sentenced prisoners by type of offence

To download the IPA’s research click here.

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