New ABS Prison Data Reinforces Urgent Need For Criminal Justice Reform

Written by:
14 March 2024
New ABS Prison Data Reinforces Urgent Need For Criminal Justice Reform - Featured image

“The latest ABS data again shows prisons are fast approaching capacity, as violent crime continues to surge. It is clear we need to focus on who we incarcerate and how we can get more people into work and a better life,” said Mia Schlicht, Research Analyst at the Institute of Public Affairs.

Corrective services data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals the number of prisoners across Australia has increased from 41,029 to 42,274 over the last 12 months, with the incarceration rate now at 202.5 prisoners per 100,000 adults.

The increase to the number of prisoners has been driven by increases in Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania. Over the past 12 months incarceration rates have increased in:

  • Queensland from 234 to 245 prisoners per 100,000 adults.
  • Western Australia from 287 to 311 prisoners per 100,000 adults.
  • Tasmania from 141 to 169 prisoners per 100,000 adults.

“The data shows jurisdictions across Australia continue to ignore the fundamental idea that incarceration should always be targeted at those who are a high risk to the community, not non-violent offenders who show little likelihood of reoffending,” said Ms Schlicht.

“Over the past decade the number of prisoners has increased by approximately 10,000. It’s clear that without any meaningful criminal justice reform this trend will continue to climb, with little benefit to community safety.”

Today’s ABS data follows research published by the IPA, which found that on average it costs taxpayers $153,895 to incarcerate a single prisoner for one year, with approximately 16,000 prisoners having been incarcerated for a non-violent crime.

“With almost 40 per cent of prisoners incarcerated for a non-violent offence, and at a time of nation-wide worker shortages where one-in-five businesses cannot find the workers they need; we need to ask if low risk and non-violent offenders should languish in jail or be making a contribution to our community,” said Ms Schlicht.

IPA research has found that allowing low-risk, non-violent offenders to substitute their imprisonment term for a community-based sanction in the form of full-term employment would save taxpayers up to $2.4 billion per year.

“It is important to remember, criminal justice reform is not about letting offenders go without punishment. Being tough on crime means actually reducing crime and being smart about it,” said Ms Schlicht.

“For over a decade, conservative jurisdictions in the United States such as Texas and Georgia have shown that sensibly removing non-violent offenders from prison and getting them into work is a successful strategy which reduces incarceration rates and costs.”

“These jurisdictions also have witnessed a reduction in violent crime, as prison resources are targeted to housing the very worst offenders, and more resources are available to prevent crime before it happens,” said Ms Schlicht.

To download the IPA’s research click here.

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