Western Australia’s Incarceration Rate Nation’s Highest – Reform Urgent

Written by:
8 September 2023
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“Western Australia now has the highest incarceration rate of all the states in Australia, highlighting the need for urgent reform as prisons numbers across the state sit above full utilization rates,” said Mia Schlicht, Research Analyst at the Institute of Public Affairs.

New research released today by the IPA shows Western Australia’s criminal justice system is struggling under the weight of rising incarceration and its associated costs:

  • Reducing the incarceration of low-risk, non-violent offenders would avoid the need to build new jails, and would save, at a minimum, $346 million per year for taxpayers.
  • Western Australia’s incarceration rate is now the highest amongst all Australian states, and is almost 50% higher than the national average.
  • Western Australia’s prisons are above 100 per cent of their designed utilisation, meaning new prisons would need to be built in the absence of reform which is a significant cost to taxpayers.
  • 41 per cent of WA prisoners have been incarcerated for a non-violent offence whose imprisonment adds no discernible benefit to community safety.

“Urgent reform is needed from Western Australia’s political leaders to reduce the incarceration of low-risk, non-violent offenders to avoid the unnecessary construction of new prisons, which could cost taxpayers billions of dollars,” said Ms Schlicht.

IPA research shows by removing non-violent offenders from prison, and sentencing them to alternative justice methods, the Western Australian government could save taxpayers up to $346 million per year.

“Instead of spending taxpayer funds on locking away those who pose minimal risk to community safety, these resources should be spent on incarcerating dangerous and violent criminals, and putting more police on the beat to deter violent crime from occurring,” said Ms Schlicht.

The IPA’s research recommends that that low-risk non-violent offenders in Western Australia should be able to substitute their imprisonment term for a community-based sanction in the form of full-time employment.

“Across Western Australia, one-quarter of all businesses cannot find the workers they need, and job vacancies are three times higher than at the start of the pandemic. Some low-risk, non-violent offenders should be given the option to enter work to alleviate crippling worker shortages across the state,” said Ms Schlicht.

“Prisons should be reserved for those who commit violent and sexual offences. Those who commit non-violent offences should be punished in other ways and be given the opportunity to enter employment programs allowing them to contribute to the community.”

“Conservative jurisdictions in the United States, such as Texas and Georgia, have saved billions of taxpayer dollars by reducing the number of non-violent offenders incarcerated and have seen improved community safety outcomes with a reduction in violent, sexual and serious property crimes,” said Ms Schlicht.

To download the IPA’s research click here.

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