Productivity Commission Data Shows Youth Justice Systems Nationwide Are Broken

Written by:
23 January 2024
Productivity Commission Data Shows Youth Justice Systems Nationwide Are Broken - Featured image

“Data shows urgent criminal justice reform is needed to ensure low-risk youth offenders are punished in a manner that does not turn them into lifelong and violent offenders,” said Mia Schlicht, Research Analyst at the Institute of Public Affairs.

New data from the Productivity Commission reveals the number of young people in detention across Australia has increased for the second year in a row, with an average of 707 youth offenders in prison per day in 2023. The data also shows;

  • National spending on detention services is now over $855 million, the highest on record.
  • It costs taxpayers over $2,827 to house one youth offender in detention per day, or $1.03 million per year.
  • The utilisation rate of detention centres in Queensland sits at 98 per cent of designed capacity. Rates in New South Wales, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, and the ACT are now above 50 per cent of designed capacity.  This means significant costs will be incurred building new prisons if numbers continue to grow.

“Spending on youth detention has increased for the eighth consecutive year, despite youth crime continuing to spiral out of control. It is clear that youth prisons are not improving community safety and are in fact creating lifelong criminals,” said Ms Schlicht.

“Approximately 60 per cent of young people released from prison will return to sentenced supervision within 12 months. The case for reform in every jurisdiction is clear as youth prisons are clearly not preventing the criminal behaviour of young offenders.”

The Productivity Commission’s data follows that of the Australia Bureau of Statistics, which shows youth offenders are becoming increasingly violent.

“Just 10 years ago, approximately 21 per cent of crime committed by youth offenders was of a violent nature, this number has since skyrocketed to 31 per cent,” said Ms Schlicht.

“Locking up non-violent youth offenders with dangerous and violent offenders is creating more hardened criminals, and the data shows that youth prisons are not a deterrent for youth crime.”

Research by the Institute of Public Affairs finds that offenders are short-sighted in their decision to commit crime, and are more likely to be deterred from offending by an increased likelihood of being caught.

“We need more police on the beat to catch and deter criminals before they offend and before a victim is created,” said Ms Schlicht.

“For those low-risk nonviolent offenders, the best way to break the cycle of criminality is by giving them the skills they need to enter the workforce and become productive, self-sufficient members of society.”

“Getting low-risk criminals employed is an idea already being implemented in areas such as outback Queensland, where nonviolent criminals are able to substitute their prison sentence for work in the community, saving taxpayers millions in spending on unnecessary incarceration,” said Ms Schlicht.

To download previous IPA research click here.

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