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Media Release: Tasmania can lead the nation by redirecting funding to break the cycle amid soaring prison numbers

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 9 August 2023

A new report examining the over-reliance on incarceration in Tasmania has highlighted an urgent need for the Tasmanian Government to shift its response to overcrowding and invest in proven alternatives, suggesting costly plans to build a new prison will only fuel the state’s rising prison numbers without curbing crime.

The report, released today by the Justice Reform Initiative, reveals that although Tasmania has taken positive steps to address the failure of children’s incarceration, the state’s prison population has grown by 36% since 2011 and the cost of incarceration continues to rise.

Tasmania spends more than $117 million each year locking up adults and children, with the second highest cost per adult prisoner per day in Australia.

More than two-thirds of people in prison in Tasmania have been there before, and 33% are being held on remand – and both those figures are rising.

Despite overwhelming evidence that the current prison system is failing to deter crime, the Tasmanian Government is continuing to invest in incarceration with a proposed Northern Correctional Facility (NCF) set to cost more than $270 million, adding 270 prison beds.

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 Tasmanian Government to instead establish a $270 million Breaking the Cycle Fund over four years to boost and evaluate community-led organisations and projects that are successfully breaking the cycle of incarceration and recidivism.

Releasing the report on the eve of giving evidence to the Legislative Council Inquiry into Adult Imprisonment and Youth Detention Matters, Executive Director of the Justice Reform Initiative, Dr Mindy Sotiri, said the evidence overwhelmingly showed that building new prisons was a costly and ineffective response to both crime and rising prison numbers.

“The report shows very clearly that incarceration not only fails to reduce crime and address the drivers behind it, but increases the likelihood of reoffending,” Dr Sotiri said.

“Building an enormous prison will only serve to fill more prison beds, leaving Tasmania with a more harmful and expensive system that is ultimately failing to make the community safer.”

Dr Sotiri said there was an opportunity for Tasmania to lead the country in justice reform through greater investment in genuine alternatives, such as early prevention, diversion, and specialist courts that address disadvantage and provide pathways out of the justice system.

“There is clear political will for evidence-based youth justice reform in Tasmania, including the welcome decision to close Ashley Youth Detention centre and raise the minimum age of detention,” she said.

“We need similar recognition that the current system of adult imprisonment is failing, and a willingness to act on the evidence by significantly resourcing community-led alternatives that we know will work to reduce contact with the system and break the cycle.

“Tasmania has the opportunity to shift its funding approach so that all Tasmanian children and adults who are currently ‘managed’ in prisons instead have the opportunity to access necessary support services in the community and across all points of the justice system.”

The report highlights recent research into alternatives 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%.

Dr Sotiri said it was critical that the Tasmanian Government expands community-led options to tackle the underlying drivers of offending while also funding evaluations that measure their outcomes to mobilise a state-wide, best-practice approach.

“There is no single ‘reform fix’ to reduce prison numbers, however there are multiple proven, cost-effective reforms that can work together to build pathways away from the justice system,” said Dr Sotiri. “Despite the strong evidence base, we have seen a limited and piecemeal approach to funding and evaluating alternatives in Tasmania

“This report shows there are community-led programs already doing considerable work in breaking cycles of disadvantage, particularly First Nations-led organisations, which are achieving remarkable outcomes with very limited support and resourcing. But too many of these services are unable to meet demand, meaning only a fraction of people at risk of offending or reoffending can access them.

“It is time to continue momentum in Tasmania, follow the evidence and adequately fund the services and supports that work to reduce the need for prison beds, rather than build more, and ultimately build a safer Tasmania.”

Among the report’s key findings:

  • In Tasmania in 2021-22, the total net operating cost of adult prisons was more than $101.3 million with a further $16.2 million spent on children’s incarceration.
  • The real direct cost per adult prisoner per day is $432.27 or $157,778 per year – the second highest in Australia.
  • On an average night there are 642 adults locked up in Tasmania’s five prisons, an increase of more than 36% over the last decade.
  • More than two-thirds of people in prison in Tasmania have been in prison before and 33% are in prison on remand – up from 18% in 2012.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 6.5 times more likely to be in prison than the non-Aboriginal adult population and account for 22.7% of Tasmania’s prison population, an increase of 111% over the last decade.

The $270 million Breaking the Cycle Fund recommended in this report is based on the proposed cost of a new prison, and preliminary costings of what would be required in Tasmania to boost existing community sector organisations so that they are able to meet the demand for their services, as well as costing the capacity-building requirements of new services and supports. It is recommended that at least 30% of all funds be dedicated to First Nations-led organisations in recognition of the challenges and overrepresentation of First Nations people in the justice system.

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.

The Initiative will host a panel discussion at Bett Gallery on Sunday, 13 August 2023, on why jailing is failing in Tasmania, the work to reduce Aboriginal over-incarceration 30 years after the Royal Commission, and the evidence about what works to build community led alternatives.

Our Tasmanian Patrons include:

  • Greg Barns SC, Barrister, commentator and spokesperson on criminal justice for the Australian Lawyers Alliance.
  • Rodney Dillon, Advocate for change.
  • The Honourable Lara Giddings, Former Premier and Attorney-General of Tasmania.
  • Adjunct Associate Professor Terese Henning, Former Director of the Tasmania Law Reform Institute.
  • Michael Hill, Former Chief Magistrate of Tasmania and former Acting Justice of the Supreme Court of Currently Adjunct Professor within the Faculty of Law at the University of Tasmania and Chair of the Just Desserts Drug Court Support Group.
  • The Rt Revd Dr Chris Jones, Vicar General and Assistant Bishop, Anglican Diocese of Tasmania and CEO of Anglicare Tasmania.
  • Christine Milne AO, Former Senator for Tasmania and leader the Australian Greens, current Global Greens Ambassador.
  • Anna Reynolds, Lord Mayor of Hobart.
  • The Honourable Denise Swan, Former Minister (Community Development, Status of Women, Aboriginal Affairs, Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs, and Local Government) and Member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly.
  • Head Patron – Professor the Honourable Kate Warner AC, Former Governor of Tasmania.
  • Professor Rob White FASSA FANZSOC, Distinguished Professor of Criminology, School of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania.
  • The Honourable Jim Wilkinson, Former President, Tasmanian Legislative Council, President of the Tasmanian Football Board and former partner of the law firm Wallace Wilkinson & Webster.

For more information and a copy of the report, visit

Media contact: Amy Price 0437 027 156

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.

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