Skip navigation

Media Release: NSW must redirect resources to break the cycle and improve community safety

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 20 March 2024

A new report examining the evidence base for alternatives to prison has found that NSW could significantly reduce reoffending and improve community safety by investing more in community-led programs and services that are already showing strong results in keeping people out of prison.

As the NSW Government prepares to tighten bail laws to make it harder for children to receive bail, increasing the number of children who will be imprisoned, the report from the Justice Reform Initiative highlights the exorbitant expense of NSW’s overreliance on prisons – costing taxpayers more than $2 billion each year, with a 62% increase in net expenditure on adult imprisonment over the past decade.

New South Wales imprisons more adults than anywhere else in Australia, with approximately 12,316 adults imprisoned at a cost of $298 per day or $108,890 per year. New South Wales also has the second-highest number of children imprisoned in Australia (second only to Queensland). In 2023, there were, on average, 200 children and young people locked up in youth detention each night.

The Justice Reform Initiative – an alliance which includes former parliamentarians from all sides of politics, as well as respected Aboriginal leaders, judicial figures, and community experts – is calling on the NSW Government to establish a $300 million Breaking the Cycle Fund over four years to boost evidence-based community-led organisations and projects that are successfully breaking the cycle of incarceration and recidivism.

Executive Director Dr Mindy Sotiri said the report highlighted the strong results of community programs which were being held back through underinvestment while more people were being funnelled through the prison system, increasing the chances of future offending.

“Rather than base policies on evidence of what actually works to prevent crime and reduce offending, the major parties have historically turned justice into a political competition, centred around a failed ‘tough on crime’ approach,” she said.

“We are witnessing this short-sighted, kneejerk policy reactiveness in action right now, with proposed changes to bail that will funnel more children into prisons instead of into programs that address the drivers of contact with the justice system.

“This entrenched populist approach and extraordinary spending on prisons has meant that excellent evidence-based, community-led programs are left struggling for funds despite the overwhelming evidence that shows it is the investments made outside of prisons that truly prevent crime and improve community safety.” 

Dr Sotiri said that while there are highly effective diversionary, post-release, place-based and First Nations-led programs already operating in NSW, a significantly greater investment was needed to stop people being drawn into the criminal justice system and prevent cycles of reincarceration.

“Shifting away from a ‘tough on crime’ approach is simply not enough,” she said. “Decades of this outdated approach to justice have only entrenched the social and economic factors that drive contact with the criminal justice system. 

“Already, there are many community-based organisations in NSW working to reduce cycles of incarceration. However, despite their impressive impact, these organisations are impeded by limited resources and funding.

“We need to significantly scale up our investments into community-led justice initiatives to prevent crime, particularly among children and young people, and to ensure there are strong exit pathways for those caught in a cycle of imprisonment.”

The report highlights recent research and more than 100 examples of successful alternatives to prison including:

  • Early intervention and prevention programs that reduce crime at a population level by between 5% and 31% and reduce offending among at-risk populations by 50%.
  • First Nations place-based approaches which have seen significant reductions in crime, criminal justice system and youth justice contact and significant cost-savings.
  • Bail support programs which slash reoffending (33%) and increase compliance with bail conditions (95%).
  • Post release and diversionary community-led programs that show dramatic decreases in recidivism; such as support programs focusing on drug and alcohol dependency which reduced days in custody (65.8%), new custody episodes (62.6%), and proven offences (62.1%) within two years.
  • Alternative policing and alternative first responder models that lessen the likelihood of arrest by 58%.
  • Alternative and specialist court processes that reduce contact with the justice system.
  • Alternative detention models such as rehabilitation and therapeutic models focusing on alcohol and other drug treatment which have low recidivism rates of just 2%.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • The total operating expenditure on adult prisons in NSW (including capital costs) in 2022/23 was more than $2 billion, with a further $201 million spent on children’s incarceration each year.
  • The crude rate of adult incarceration in NSW is 189.5 per 100,000. This rate has increased by 9% over the last decade.
  • In NSW, 39% of adults in prison are currently on remand.
  • 56.6% of all people in prison in NSW have been to prison before.
  • While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up only 3.4% of the NSW population, they represent 28.5% of incarcerated adults.
  • The imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 10 to 17 is 19.5 per 10,000, compared to 0.8 per 10,000 for non-Indigenous children.


About the Justice Reform Initiative

The Justice Reform Initiative is a multi-partisan alliance supported by more than 120 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.

Our New South Wales Patrons include:

  • Professor Emerita Eileen Baldry AO FASSA FRSN. Professor Emerita of Criminology, University of New South Wales
  • Professor Larissa Behrendt. Professor of Law and Director of Research at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology Sydney
  • Jody Broun. Inaugural female co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First People
  • Nicholas Cowdery AO KC. Former Director of Public Prosecutions NSW
  • Bill Crews AM. Founder of the Rev. Bill Crews Foundation, broadcaster and National Living Treasure
  • The Honourable Bob Debus AM. Former Attorney General of NSW and former Federal Minister for Home Affairs
  • The Hon John Dowd AO KC. Former Attorney General of NSW, former Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW and Vice President of the International Commission of Jurists
  • John Feneley. Former Mental Health Commissioner NSW
  • The Hon Geoff Gallop AC. Former Premier of Western Australia and currently Emeritus Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Social Science at the University of Sydney
  • The Hon Katrina Hodgkinson. Former Minister for Primary Industries (including lands and water), former Minister for Small Business, former Assistant Minister for Tourism and Major Events
  • Dan Howard. Former President, NSW Mental Health Review Tribunal. Former Commissioner, Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug 'Ice'
  • Ken Marslew AM. CEO of Enough is Enough
  • The Honourable Ruth McColl AO SC. Former Justice of the NSW Court of Appeal
  • Dr John Paget. Former Assistant Commissioner NSW Corrective Services, CEO SA Correctional Services and NSW Inspector of Custodial Services
  • The Honourable Greg Smith SC. Former Attorney General of NSW and former Minister for Justice (including Juvenile Justice and Corrective Services)
  • Dr John Vallance. Former NSW State Librarian
  • Yvonne Weldon AM. City of Sydney Councillor. Former Chairperson of Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. Former Aboriginal Strategic Coordination Manager at Youth Justice NSW

For more information and a copy of the report, visit

Media contact: Pia Akerman 0412 346 746

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.

Continue Reading

Read More