New ABS Prison Data Shows Why Criminal Justice Reform Urgent

Written by:
23 November 2023
New ABS Prison Data Shows Why Criminal Justice Reform Urgent - Featured image

“The latest ABS data shows prison numbers have climbed over the last 12 months, highlighting, yet again, the need for wholesale criminal justice reform, as current policy settings are simply not working or keeping us safe,” said Mia Schlicht, Research Analyst at the Institute of Public Affairs.

Data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals the number of people in prisons across Australia has increased from 40,907 to 42,215 over the last 12 months, with the incarceration rate rising to 204 prisoners per 100,000 adults, up from 202 per 100,000 at the same time last year.

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

  • Tasmania from 138 to 166 prisoners per 100,000 adults.
  • Queensland from 232 to 247 prisoners per 100,000 adults.
  • Western Australia from 293 to 305 prisoners per 100,000 adults.

“The average incarceration rate across Australia has not been under 200 prisoners per 100,000 adults since October 2015. It makes clear that current criminal justice policy settings are not reducing crime or keeping us safe,” said Ms Schlicht.

“Over the past decade, Australia’s incarceration rate has increased by almost 17 per cent. This alarming growth in Australia’s prison numbers is a clear indication that criminal justice reform is an urgent priority.”

Today’s ABS data follows research by the IPA that found 38 per cent of prisoners have been imprisoned for non-violent crimes, costing taxpayers approximately $2.3 billion each year to incarcerate them.

“Our prisons should be reserved for violent and sexual offenders, rather than non-violent offenders whose incarceration provides little overall safety benefit. With the right policy settings we can save money and invest in preventing crime before it happens,” said Ms Schlicht.

IPA research has also revealed that Australia’s unprecedented worker shortage crisis could be partly alleviated if low-risk non-violent offenders were given the opportunity to substitute their prison sentence for community-based sanctions in the form of offender employment programs.

“It costs taxpayers more than $147,000 to detain a single prisoner for one year. Non-violent criminals who do not pose a physical safety threat should be punished in more productive ways to see victims restituted and reoffending reduced,” Ms Schlicht said.

“Removing non-violent criminals from prison and punishing them through alternative measures such as offender-employment programs, offender taxation levies, and home detention would free up more prison resources to detain dangerous offenders for longer periods than they currently are.”

“The primary goal of our criminal justice system must be improving community safety. Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on the incarceration of low-risk, non-violent offenders, this money should be reinvested into preventing crime by putting more police on the beat,” said Ms Schlicht.

To download the IPA’s criminal justice reform research click here.

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