Less than three months out from the new Victorian government’s first state budget, Jesuit Social Services has released new analysis showing a $626 million spike in prison spending over the past ten years: money that could be better spent on social services to build safer communities with lower levels of crime.

The organisation’s cost analysis shows that $626 million total – the difference between the $316 million spent on prisons in 2005 and the $942 million spent this year – is enough to rent 36,457 three-bedroom homes for a year, fund 189 primary schools for the same period or pay the yearly wages for 8,072 community mental health workers or 6,617 nurses.

“We know that our state’s prison system is overcrowded, and that failed law and order policies pursued in recent years have come at an enormous cost. This is evidenced by the extraordinary single-year increase of almost $70 million on our criminal justice system between 2012-13 and 2013-14,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“The travesty is that this spending is also failing to deliver a safer community, with no evident decrease in crime and Victoria’s recidivism rate at a 10-year high of nearly 40 per cent. This means more people are becoming stuck in the revolving door of our criminal justice system, and that our prisons are failing to rehabilitate people for their return to the community.”

Jesuit Social Services has called on the State Government to commit to sustained investments in tackling the underlying disadvantage behind crime such as homelessness, unemployment, mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse.

“An astonishing 43 per cent of people exiting prison expect to be homeless on release, making it almost impossible for people to get their lives back on track. If we directed our funds into addressing our state’s housing crisis, education and training instead of our prison system, we could work to prevent crime before it occurs and ultimately lessen the strain on our justice system,” says Ms Edwards.

Jesuit Social Services’ cost analysis shows $626 million could afford:

Renting 36,457 three-bedroom homes for a year (based on median rent, June 2014 Victorian Rental Report)

Funding of 189 primary schools for a year (based on average annual cost of Victorian state primary schools, Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services, 2014)

Paying the yearly wages of 8,072 community mental health workers (based on salaries of experienced workers for Jesuit Social Services’ Connexions program)

Paying the yearly wages of 6,617 nurses (based on average annual wage from snapshot of positions advertised on mycareer.com.au)