A national research report released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (1351.0.55.031) showed a dramatic increase in the national prison population between 1994 and 2007 of 3.7% per year, and an increase in prisoners with prior imprisonment increasing at a rate of 3.2% per year.
These figures indicate a national increase of around 50% in the rate of imprisonment over 10 years.
A Vice Chancellor’s fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Law School with more than 30 years experience in the Australian criminal justice system, Peter Norden says the time has come for a change in thinking.
“What further evidence could be required of a prison system that is failing and a criminal justice system that is in urgent need of review and evaluation,” Mr Norden says.
“Meanwhile throughout Australia, states and territories like Victoria resort to bidding wars on longer sentences and an increased use of imprisonment, particularly in the period leading up to a State election.
“If these results emerged from our education system or our health system, there would be a general outrage at the waste of resources, both personal and financial.”
The report indicates that about one in five prisoners were reimprisoned in the first two years, one-quarter by three years from release, and almost 40% by the end of the 10 year observation period. Younger prisoners, especially those 17-19 years of age were the most likely to be reimprisoned after release, as were Indigenous prisoners.
“The Australian community and the state and territory governments should now recognise that there are more effective interventions than imprisonment for such high risk groups and address the underlying issues such as access to education, housing and employment,” Mr Norden says.
“After running post-release prisoner programs for more than 30 years, I know from experience that the system is not working, and this report just confirms that experience.”