“The decision to reverse the privatisation of New South Wales prisons should be accompanied with wholesale criminal justice reform focused on reducing the number of non-violent prisoners whose incarceration provides little overall safety benefit,” said Mia Schlicht, Research Analyst at the Institute of Public Affairs.
Following an extended period where New South Wales prisons have strained under chronic resourcing and staffing issues, the state government’s announcement that it will not renew contracts of private prison operators throughout the state from 2025 provides a key catalyst for reform.
“If non-violent offenders were removed from prisons and made to serve alternative punishments, the money saved could be reinvested into community safety measures to stop crime from occurring in the first place,” said Ms Schlicht.
In New South Wales, it costs $152,950 to house one prisoner for an entire year. Prison data shows approximately 39 per cent of inmates in New South Wales are imprisoned for a non-violent offence.
“Prisons are the most expensive form of punishment that can be imposed by the state. Therefore, it must be reserved for isolating dangerous and violent criminals, instead of housing non-violent offenders who do not pose a community safety threat,” said Ms Schlicht.
“New South Wales taxpayers are spending up to $730 million per year on the incarceration of non-violent, low-risk offenders, the most of all states and territories in Australia.”
IPA research has shown that alternative punishments to prison could include offender-employment programs, offender taxation levies, forced restitution, and home detention fines.
“This is not about giving criminals a soft option, they must be punished. However, we need to recognise there are many alternative punishments that can be imposed, which are just as punitive, but importantly make restitution to victims, without leaving taxpayers with the bill,” said Ms Schlicht.
IPA analysis shows that one in five businesses in New South Wales cannot find the workers they need, as Australia suffers through a persistent worker shortage crisis.
“Rather than being a burden on taxpayers, non-violent offenders should be working in the community, paying tax and helping to reduce the worker shortages New South Wales is currently experiencing,” said Ms Schlicht.
“There is no argument that people who commit violent and sexual crimes must be locked away, often for longer periods than they currently are. However low-risk, non-violent offenders should be punished in ways that serves the community, rather than punishes taxpayers.”
“Successful criminal justice reform in conservative jurisdictions in the United States, such as Texas and Georgia, has shown that reducing the incarceration of non-violent offenders not only delivers savings to taxpayers, but can also improve community safety.”
To download the IPA research into criminal justice reform click here.