Despite the rate of offenders in Australia remaining steady over the past five years, the national imprisonment rate has jumped by an alarming 25 per cent – resulting in a staggering spike in the cost of prisons by almost a billion dollars (to a total of $3.8 billion) during the same period.

The analysis is included in Jesuit Social Services’ report, States of Justice: Criminal Justice Trends Across Australia, a comprehensive snapshot of criminal justice trends in all states and territories.

“While law-and-order issues dominate headlines and public conversations, evidence does not match the perception many people seem to have that crime in Australia is out of control,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“Not only is prison expensive but it is not making us safer – shown by the fact that the percentage of people returning to prison has increased from 39.9 per cent to 44.3 per cent over the past five years. Prison is increasingly failing to rehabilitate people for their return to the community.”

“There is a place for prison in our society but many of the people we are incarcerating pose no threat to community safety – for these people we need our Governments to invest in rehabilitation and restorative justice approaches that we know make our communities safer.”

States of Justice draws together data sets from multiple sources including the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Trends over time indicate:

  • The number of young offenders proceeded against by police has decreased by 20 per cent over the past five years
  • Illicit drug offences have risen by 40 per cent nationally, including an increase in every state and territory
  • The number of people on remand increased by 22 per cent between 2015 and 2016.

“The report also outlines the social disadvantage experienced by many people in the criminal justice system. Around quarter of prisoners were homeless before entering prison and 43 per cent are homeless on release; almost half of prison entrants in the last year were unemployed in the 30 days prior to imprisonment and just under a third have not completed year 10,” says Ms Edwards.

Ms Edwards says the 26 per cent increase in prison expenditure outstrips other critical areas such as education which has increased by just 10 per cent over the same period of time.

“Prison costs are spiraling out of control, and at the cost of the vital services that help prevent crime before it occurs. We must work to steer many offenders who pose no risk to community safety away from prison and support them to address the underlying issues behind their offending.

“We all want safer communities – and prison is just a small part of the answer.”


Visit our research and advocacy page to download the position paper and the full report

Media enquiries – Kathryn Kernohan, 0409 901 248 or