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Jailing is failing the most disadvantaged. The majority of people incarcerated in Australia come from circumstances where they have experienced multiple and intersecting disadvantages. There are eight social determinants that increase the likelihood of incarceration:

  1. having been in out of home (foster) care;
  2. receiving a poor school education;
  3. being Indigenous;
  4. having early contact with police;
  5. having unsupported mental health and/or cognitive disability;
  6. problematic alcohol and other drug use;
  7. experiencing homelessness or unstable housing; and
  8. coming from or living in a disadvantaged location.[1]

Around 60% of people in prison have some form of alcohol and other drug dependency. 43% of all people in prison were homeless in the four weeks before entering custody and 48% of people leaving prison expect to exit into homelessness. A disproportionate number of people in prison come from a small number of 'postcodes of disadvantage' where access to education, healthcare, support, and employment are all comparatively lacking. 46% of people who enter prison report being unemployed prior to their incarceration and 62% of people released from prison don’t have paid employment organised.

The fact of disadvantage cannot be used to discount the consequences of crime. However, it is crucial to understand the context in which most crime is committed in order to build and implement effective policy to reduce the numbers of people in custody and strengthen genuine alternatives to prison.


[1] McCausland, R + Baldry, E (2023) The Social Determinants of Justice: 8 Factors that increase your risk of imprisonment, in The Conversation, [website] accessed 26 April 2024,