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Media Release: New report shows jailing is failing in NSW

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 10 December 2021

The criminal justice system in New South Wales is failing, with an overreliance on incarceration entrenching existing disadvantage, and the need for much greater resourcing of evidence-based community-led programs which are shown to reduce recidivism.

A new report, released today by the Justice Reform Initiative, underscores the need for evidence-based reform of the criminal justice system in NSW, outlining the soaring growth in the state’s prison population at a cost of billions to taxpayers.

Since 2010, the New South Wales prison population has grown by 38%.

More than half of the sentenced people in prison have been in prison before, second only to the Northern Territory among Australian states and territories. When those on remand are included, the proportion of those who have been in prison before climbs to over two-thirds.

The report outlines serious problems with remand, with more than 3 in 10 people in NSW prisons unsentenced – an increase of 10 per cent over the last decade. New South Wales keeps 15 per cent of people on remand in prison for longer than a year, more than any other state or territory. More than half of people in NSW prisons have been held on remand for more than three months and more than a third have been on remand for more than six months.

Justice Reform Initiative executive director Dr Mindy Sotiri said the figures highlighted the urgent need for policymakers to invest in proven evidence-based approaches to break the cycle of incarceration, instead of spending billions of dollars on new prisons and more cells.

“This report clearly shows that jailing is failing in NSW, as it is around the country,” Dr Sotiri said.

“Decades of kneejerk ‘tough on crime’ policies have created a systemic overreliance on incarceration, despite evidence that putting more people in prison does not make communities safer.

“For the vast majority of people who come into contact with the criminal justice system, there are real alternatives that should come before imprisonment. NSW already has many successful community-led programs and services that provide insights into how we might genuinely look at decreasing recidivism and stop this ‘revolving door’ model that costs taxpayers over $1 billion a year in operating costs – not to mention the billions being spent on new prison capacity.

“We urge both sides of politics to put the slogans aside and focus on the policies and practices that will address the underlying issues that funnel many marginalised and disadvantaged people into the criminal justice system.”

The report, State of Incarceration: Insights into imprisonment in New South Wales, will be launched tonight at an event at Government House.

The Justice Reform Initiative is a multi-partisan alliance supported by more than 100 of our most eminent Australians, including two former Governors-General, former Members of Parliament from all sides of politics, academics, respected Aboriginal leaders, senior former judges, including High Court judges, and others who have added their voices to end Australia’s dangerously high reliance on jails. 

The initiative is calling for governments around Australia to move away from an entrenched reliance on incarceration as the mainstay of the criminal justice system and adopt an evidence-based approach to deliver better results for taxpayers, communities and people in the criminal justice system.

For more information visit

The Initiative respectfully acknowledges and supports the current and longstanding efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reduce the numbers of Indigenous people incarcerated in Australia and, importantly, the leadership role which Indigenous-led organisations continue to play on this issue. We also acknowledge the work of many other individuals and organisations seeking change, such as those focused on the rate of imprisonment for women, people with mental health issues, people with disability and others.

Media contact: Pia Akerman 0412 346 746



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