Rising Costs Of Incarceration Compromising Community Safety

Rising Costs Of Incarceration Compromising Community Safety

“The dramatic increase in incarceration across Australia over the past decade has taken money away from policing and other government services that are vital for community safety,” said Andrew Bushnell, Research Fellow at the free market think-tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.

Over the past decade, incarceration in Australia has grown at an unsustainable rate. The incarceration rate has increased by 30 percent in that time, from 167 prisoners per 100,000 adults to 217 prisoners per 100,000 adults. Taxpayers now spend $4.4 billion on corrective services, most of which goes towards incarceration. This figure has grown by 29 percent in just the past five years. Incarceration costs on average $110,000 per prisoner per year.

New research released today by the IPA’s Criminal Justice Project illustrates the trade-offs created by this rapid growth of incarceration. The report, Skewed priorities: comparing the growth of prison spending with police spending finds that the ratio of spending on police to spending on prisons has fallen sharply in recent years. The report also makes comparisons with spending on courts, schools, and public hospitals.“Comparing police and prison spending is interesting because both of these parts of the criminal justice system share the goal of reducing crime by deterring would-be criminals, and it is a persistent finding in criminology that policing is more effective in this task than incarceration,” said Mr Bushnell.

“The deterrent effect of our criminal justice system is weaker overall when more resources are dedicated to incarceration.”

The report includes an international comparison of Australian jurisdictions’ police-to-prison spending. On this measure, Australian jurisdictions sit in between most American states, which tend to spend proportionally more on prisons, and European Union members, which tend to spend proportionally more on police. Notably, Australia is moving towards a more US-style distribution of criminal justice spending even as American states take steps in the other direction by implementing criminal justice reforms to reduce incarceration.

“The pressure that the high cost of incarceration exerts on the criminal justice system leads to worse overall outcomes for community safety,” said Mr Bushnell.

“Australian jurisdictions can make the community safer and better spend taxpayer money by taking steps to safely reduce incarceration, starting with punishment reform for nonviolent offenders.”

“Longer-term, this will save taxpayers money by avoiding capital and operational costs associated with prisons. And these savings can be put towards reducing crime through more effective deterrence and rehabilitation,” said Mr Bushnell.

Download ReportSkewed priorities: comparing the growth of prison spending with police spending

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