Is Packing Prisons The Best Way To Deal With Crime?
Our prisons are filled to bursting point as tougher sentencing by courts is sending record numbers of lawbreakers to jail, new figures from the Bureau of Statistics reveal. The ABS says 33,000 people are locked behind bars across Australia, and jails are overflowing in every state and territory except Tasmania. That’s a nine per cent increase in the past 12 months. State politicians and courts have responded to demands by the public for tougher sentences, and criminals are more likely to be locked up and stay in their cells longer.
Queensland’s numbers jumped 16 per cent over the past year, Victoria by 13 per cent, South Australia by 10 per cent and NSW by 7.6 per cent. Women prisoners grew 14 per cent over the past 12 months. Aboriginal prisoners are 28 per cent of the total prison population. Victoria has resorted to keeping prisoners in shipping containers. In NSW prison officers are refusing to allow any more inmates because of overcrowding. Prisoners are becoming more aggressive as they are crammed into cells and guards’ workers compensation entitlements have been cut back. The dangers increase as 20 guards sometimes have to supervise 300 prisoners.
Many of us think this is a good thing. Do the crime and do the time. Society is safer with the crooks off the streets. If you’ve been the victim of a crime it’s understandable if you cheer.
But is jail the best way to combat crime? Every prisoner costs around $100,000 a year. Could this money be better spent? The Bureau of Crime Statistics says 57 per cent of prison inmates were reconvicted within 15 years of being released. Forty per cent reoffend within three years.
Violent offences in NSW declined 1.7 per cent over the past five years, although over the past two years sexual assaults increased 7.8 per cent and fraud was up 13.2 per cent. Property offences remained stable over the past five years. With all those crooks in jail shouldn’t these figures be going down further?
Studies have found the most effective way to cut crime is to have more police on the beat. Bureau director Don Weatherburn said it was better to increase the risk of arrest than increasing severity of punishments.
But the best deterrent of all to crime is for people to have a job that provides a decent standard of living, particularly among the poor. The Bureau of Crime Statistics found a 10 per cent increase in average household income produced a 20 per cent drop in property crime and 15 per cent fall in violent crime.