Australia put more people in jail than ever before in 2015 and it’s costing taxpayers $2.6 billion

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Prisoner numbers in Australia have reached a record high of 35,467 in the March quarter 2015 – up 7% year-on-year.

According to figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, drawn from national, state and territory corrective services information, the average daily imprisonment rate is now 194 prisoners per 100,000 adult population.

“The overall number of prisoners in Australia has increased annually by 2,221 persons between the March quarter 2014 and the March quarter 2015,” said William Milne from the ABS.


The current breakdown of prisoners in full-time custody in Australia is 32,686 males and 2,780 females.

In the March quarter, the average daily imprisonment rate for men was 362 per 100,000 adult males, approximately 12 times the rate for women at 30 per 100,000.

Milne said the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners also increased annually by 618 to 9,838 persons: “12 times higher than the overall imprisonment rate in the March quarter 2015”.

The top end is leading the way in locking up people. Between March 2014 and 2015, the Northern Territory recorded the largest increase in the average daily imprisonment rate, from 864 to 904 prisoners per 100,000 adult population. Tasmania was the only jurisdiction to record a decrease: from 119 to 118 prisoners per 100,000.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners represented 28% of the total full-time adult prisoner population, despite being just 3% of the Australian population. Three states accounted for nearly three-quarters of that total: New South Wales (2,702 prisoners or 28%), Queensland (2,300 prisoners or 23%) and Western Australia (2,150 prisoners or 22%).

The cost of incarceration isn’t cheap for taxpayers.

According to the Productivity Commission, each Australian prisoner costs an average of $292 per day, almost double Australia’s average daily earnings of $160.

In a system that cost the nation $2.6 billion (after expenses) in 2013-14, some argue this money would be better spent on preventing people from being jailed.

Supreme Court judge Christine Wheeler recently told the ABC: “There’s money being wasted that could be spent better on other things, including crime prevention which would make us all safer in the first place.”

“It costs about $100,000, when I last looked, to send someone to jail for a year. So every time you send someone to jail for a year and they don’t need to be there, that’s a nurse you don’t employ, it’s a teacher you don’t employ, it’s a bit of road that doesn’t get fixed, it’s something that as a taxpayer you want that doesn’t happen,” she said. Read more on that here.

Overcrowding has also become an issue with the NSW government spending $10 million on 80 demountable cells to cope with the increased prison population.

Last year, the Northern Territory government spent $500 million on a 1000-bed prison in Darwin, the government’s biggest-ever construction project.