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Incarceration Costs and Effects in Australia

Executive Summary

Australia is one of the highest spending countries when it comes to the incarceration of prisoners, coming second after the United States. Among some of the causes for the high prison retention rates are that more women have turned into criminal offenders. Also, the high standard of living has caused people to break the law to earn a living. The resultant costs are that the Australian government has had to spend more on the incarceration of the offenders at the expense of compromised quality facilities to the citizens. The effect is that taxpayers have, in turn, been forced to pay more taxes to ensure that the prisoners are kept well in jail. The government has even been forced to borrow to meet its financial deficits caused by the high cost of incarceration. To avoid the costs, however, it would be wise if the judiciary and the courts would consider probation and community service instead of imprisonment.

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In Australia, there are approximately 87 government prisons, eight of whom are privately operated. Out of the 114 custodial facilities in the country, four of them are used as centers for transition while another one functions as a detention center for periodic purposes (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008).also, 14 of the facilities are complexes that operate as court cell facilities. The additional role of jurisdictions in the country is to provide correction to the community and to ensure that both sanctions and interventions are provided for non-custodial purposes.

Number of People Held in Prisons in Australia

The Australian prisons hold an average of 29,213 prisoners, daily. However, there was an increase in these rates in the year 2010-2011 as an additional 1.7% was held in the facilities. Of the prisoners held in the Australian prisons, approximate 92.9% of them were males, while the other 7.1% comprised of female offenders (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008). Out of the offenders detained in the prisons, 23% were held in the remand cells meaning that this population consisted of even those offenders who had not yet been sentenced. Most of the people that had been detained in the prisons were accused of crimes like causing injury to people (17%), and sexual assault (15%). On the other hand, most of the sentenced females were accused of being drug offenders (17%) as well as causing injury (14%) (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008).

Costs of Incarceration to Australia

To determine the costs incurred by the Australian government to detain and retain the prisoners in the prison cells, a parliamentary committee was established. The statistics gathered showed that it costs the country approximately $300 daily to continue detaining a prisoner in jail. The costs for keeping a juvenile in jail were also approximated at $600 daily. One of the challenges that the Australian government is facing is that the number of people being imprisoned increases daily (Daoust 2008). It is further estimated that these rates will more than double in the next 30 years. One of the causative factors is that crime rates among women have increased, with criminal intent among women having increased (Daoust 2008).

Budgetary Costs of Incarceration

The country spends to the tune of about $2.6 billion in a year just to retain prisoners in the cells. This is a further alarming statistic considering that the number of people being retained in the Australian prisons keeps on increasing (No bail – go directly to jail 2010). Even though the rates of crime in the country have decreased over the years, on the other hand, the country is still retaining and detaining more people in prison cells. Between 2008 and 2009, the rate at which people were being imprisoned in the country rose by about 17 percent. In 2010, out of the 283.4 people that were detained in the prison cells, only 45.7% were granted parole, contrary to the parole rate of 82.5 % that prisoners had enjoyed in 2009, out of a possible 242.4% (Disappearing right of bail 2010).

Economic Costs

The government of Australia has been able to bear the brunt of direct imprisonment costs. In the 2008-2009 financial year, the total costs for the police, the courts, and the corrective facilities amounted to about $14.02 billion. This represented an increase of 3.3% compared to the cost incurred in the 2007-2009 financial year when the cost of direct imprisonment was $ 12.3 billion. Also, it is important to note that incarceration costs have grown to about 3.3% annually from the period between 2007 and 2012. The expenditure growth rate for the prisoners has also increased to about 3.5% and 2.9% for the corrective facilities (Schmitt, Warner & Gupta 2010).

To ensure that prisoners are ably maintained in the cells, the country has had to endure substantial economic brunt. For all the 114 custodial centers available in the country, the country has to spend about $2.4 billion annually and an additional expense of $0.5 billion on community correction facilities. The net operating cost of the facilities is $3.1 billion, up by 4.8%. Given the very high rates of keeping the prisoners in jail, the cost of imprisonment is estimated to be about $2 daily for the Territorians and 52 cents daily for the adult Australians. These costs are expected to increase further due to the construction of a new prison in Darwin, approximated to cost $495 million (Crime and Justice Research Committee (CJRC) 2010).

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Effect of Incarceration to the Tax Payers

Not only are the incarceration costs felt by the government but also by the tax payers who have to pay about $400,000 to enable the prisons to retain the juvenile offenders in their facilities (Crime and Justice Research Committee (CJRC) 2010). This is a lot of money considering that it could be put to better use to ensure that the juvenile offenders are well placed, as far as their education, health, and other basic needs are concerned. The consequence of the very high incarceration costs for the juveniles is that it further exposes them to adult criminal life. Additionally, the high incarceration cost of retaining adult criminals is not helping in any way to reduce the rates of crime. Instead, recidivism rates are going up by the day.

Effect of incarceration to the people

Being that the country has to spend a lot of money on retaining prisoners, little money is spent on offering good health care and standard education. Being that the budget of the country is not able to meet all these demands, it is further constrained to borrow to meet the necessary needs of the people.


Instead of spending a lot of money in retaining the prisoners, it would be wise if more effort was redirected to maintaining law and order. This way, the rate of people that would be caught in criminal activities would be reduced.

To further reduce the prison costs, it would be appropriate that the judiciary and the criminal courts of justice considered the use of community service and putting the offenders on probation instead of directly sending them to jail. This is one way through which the offenders could be able to give back to society and still have a sense of discipline instilled in them.

Reference List

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008, Prisoners in Australia. Web.

Crime and Justice Research Committee (CJRC) 2010, Fact Sheet: The Costs of Imprisonment in New South Wales. Web.

Daoust, C 2008, The Paradox in Incarceration and Crime. Web.

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Disappearing right of bail 2010. Web.

No bail – go directly to jail 2010. Web.

Schmitt, J, Warner, K & Gupta, S 2010, The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration. Web.

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