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Prison population growth becoming a budget headache

New South Wales’ prison population will continue to rise both in the short and long-term, and will reach 15,600 by 2036 if the last decade’s growth rates continue, according to a report by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

The paper estimates that if relevant influences remain unchanged, the state will have 12,191 prisoners by March 2017. The prisoner population is approximately 11,000 at present.

Three scenarios were created using different age-specific rates of imprisonment (that is, the number of people in gaol in different age brackets) to produce long-term growth predictions.

The first assumed age-specific rates of imprisonment in NSW will continue to rise at the pace they have since 1982, the earliest point available. Under these circumstances, the NSW prison population would reach 17,600 by 2036.

The second scenario assumed age-specific rates of imprisonment continue to change at the pace they have over the last ten years. In this case the NSW prison population is expected to reach 15,600 by 2036.

The third scenario assumed age-specific rates of imprisonment remain constant. In this case the NSW prison population is expected to rise to 12,500 by 2036, due to overall population growth.

Bureau director Dr Don Weatherburn said in a statement that the prison population would continue to rise if alternative policy solutions were not implemented. He argued:

“The growth in imprisonment rates in NSW over the last 15 years has helped bring down the crime rate but there are other less expensive ways of reducing crime.”

The NSW Drug Court “has shown that a well-designed and managed rehabilitation program can achieve significant reductions in offending without incurring the same high costs,” according to the BCSR.

Overcrowding would not be an new issue for Corrective Services NSW commissioner Peter Severin. New bail laws, making it hard to obtain bail, came into effect earlier this year, requiring greater planning to accommodate the additional numbers. Severin told 2GB in January it was not just about physically having somewhere to put them, but doing it safely and securely. New “high security cells” are modular but not demountable buildings as are usually associated with school classrooms.

Severin, pictured above with Attorney-General Brad Hazzard in front of the prototype of the new modular prison cell, said reopening the closed Parramatta Goal was tempting, but would “cost an absolute bucket”.

Early release should be possible, Severin says, but based on evidence-based programs that address violence, domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse. He told Sydney Morning Herald:

“But, no, we don’t let people out just because they’ve behaved well in jail, ‘You’ve been a good boy. Off you go.’ It doesn’t work like that. We’re looking at their risk of re-offending. We’re measuring that.”

Dealing with post-release growth

Another study released recently reinforced evidence of the link between imprisonment and subsequent homelessness.

The longitudinal study of more than 1400 homeless Australians found that 42% of people released from prison, juvenile detention or remand in the past 6 months were found to be homeless.

The findings are presented in the Journeys Home Research Report No. 6, written by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research and commissioned by the Department of Social Services.

Data show that the longer someone is imprisoned, the longer they are likely to be homeless. Contributing author Dr Julie Moschion, of the University of Melbourne wrote:

“The connections between prison time and homelessness suggest that there is a further role for policy makers to prevent the cycle between crime and homelessness.

“We also found that rates of homelessness were higher for those who experienced physical and sexual violence.”

Risky drinkers and those using illegal drugs like marijuana are more likely to be homeless and stay homeless for longer periods of time.

Author Bio

David Donaldson

David Donaldson is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Melbourne.