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Media Release: Productivity Commission shows jailing is failing – time for governments to act

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 29 October 2021

A new report released today by the Productivity Commission shows jailing is failing in Australia, with ‘tough on crime’ policies driving prison populations to record highs at enormous cost while failing to address drivers of crime that make our recidivism rates also among the world’s highest.

The Justice Reform Initiative – a multipartisan alliance working to end Australia’s dangerous and expensive overreliance on prisons – has welcomed the report, with executive director Dr Mindy Sotiri saying it provided a valuable economic analysis of the broken criminal justice system.

Dr Sotiri said the report added to an overwhelming body of evidence showing that Australia’s criminal justice system was going in the wrong direction.

“This report clearly shows that Australia can’t continue down this road of overincarceration – it is expensive, fails to deliver meaningfully in terms of community safety, and is harmful to the thousands of Australians who enter the criminal justice system each year,” Dr Sotiri said.

“Putting more people in prison does not make communities safer – the more time someone spends in prison, the more likely it is that they will return to prison.

“As the Productivity Commission notes, prisons are expensive, costing Australian taxpayers $5.2 billion in 2019‑20 - more than $330 per prisoner per day. This is money which could be better spent on community-led interventions which work to prevent justice system involvement, by strengthening families and communities.” 

Dr Sotiri urged Australian politicians to read the report, but also noted the limitations of the Productivity Commission’s examination and analysis of alternatives to prison.

“The answers to overincarceration exist outside of the criminal justice system,” she said. “If we are serious about addressing recidivism, we need to address the social drivers of crime and imprisonment, and this means properly resourcing the community to deliver supports that are genuinely going to allow people to build lives in the community instead of being 'managed' in justice system settings"

“This includes programs that are focused on housing, employment, mental health, disabilities, social connection, and culturally safe programs that are led by First Nations communities. We need to look beyond sentencing alternatives like home-detention that are part of the existing Correctional system, and instead draw on the evidence about 'what works' in community-led programs that address the real social and economic drivers of imprisonment. “

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.

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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 such as Change the Record 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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