Deakin University

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Jail up; crime down does not justify Australia becoming an incarceration nation

journal contribution
posted on 2015-01-01, 00:00 authored by Mirko Bagaric, Athula Pathinayake
The imprisonment rate in Australia is at unprecedented high levels, both in
terms of actual prisoner numbers and the rate at which it is increasing. For
the first time in recorded history the incarceration rate in Australia has more
than doubled in less than 25 years. Prison is the harshest form of
punishment in our system of justice and imposes considerable hardship on
offenders. It also comes at a considerable financial cost to the community.
Accordingly, the surge in prisoner numbers is a significant macro social,
economic and legal development. The increase did not occur pursuant to an
overarching strategic plan and is an area that is under-researched. The
prison population increase has arisen as a result of a ‘tough on crime’
approach that continues without any sign of abatement. The use of
imprisonment should only be increased if there is a demonstrable benefit to
the community. This article examines whether there is a sound rationale
behind the rising trend in prison numbers. The increasing incarceration rate
has coincided with a significant reduction in the crime rate. A causal
connection between the two events (increased prisoner numbers and
reduced crime) could constitute a powerful argument in favour of the surge
in prison numbers. However, an examination of the empirical data in
Australia fails to demonstrate even a tenable link between these events. We
also conclude that at the theoretical level there is no rationale for the
increased use of imprisonment. If the imprisonment rate continues to rise,
there is a risk of a prison and financial crisis similar to that currently being
experienced in the United States, which has resulted in an extreme
counter-reaction in the form of a retrospective reduction of some prison terms.



Australian bar review




64 - 96




Sydney, N.S.W.





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal; C Journal article

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2015, LexisNexis

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