Growing incarceration rate costing Australia billions: Assistant Treasurer

Australia’s growing prison population is costing the country billions of dollars every year, Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh said on Monday.

In an address at the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), Leigh said the incarceration rate has doubled since 1985 despite a falling crime rate, reports Xinhua news agency.

Australia currently spends A$4.7 billion ($3 billion) a year on prisons — the equivalent of A$240 for every taxpayer.

According to Leigh, if Australia had maintained its 1985 incarceration rate, the government would save A$2.6 billion every year.

He told the AIC that the incarceration rate reached 202 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 2022 compared to 96 per 100,000 in 1985, blaming “stricter policing, tougher sentencing, and more stringent bail laws” as the main drivers.

“The crime rate in Australia for most categories of crime has been falling since the mid-1980s,” Leigh said.

“Rates of murder have halved. Car theft rates have plummeted. Robbery rates are down.”

The governing Labor Party’s National Platform, which sets out its key priorities for the future, pledges to work with state and territory governments to pursue criminal justice policies less reliant on “high cost and harmful prisons”, declaring incarceration fails to “provide effective outcomes for victims of crime or to make our communities safe”.

The portion of Indigenous Australian adults incarcerated has increased from 1 per cent in 1990 to 2.3 per cent in 2022, putting them among the most imprisoned people on Earth, according to the Guardian Australia.

“That’s only a snapshot at a particular point in time. If you look at First Nations men of my generation, a quarter will spend time in jail,” Leigh said.

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