report by Sophie Russell (Faculty of Law, UNSW; Faculty of Law and Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education & Research, UT) and Eileen Baldry (School of Social Sciences, UNSW)
The number and rate of people imprisoned in Australia has, with some exceptions, risen rapidly over the past three decades. The largest rates of increase have been in remand, women, and Indigenous prisoners. The flow prison population over a year in NSW appears to be 1.5 times the census or static population count due to the high numbers of remand and short sentence prisoners; reliable figures are not available for other jurisdictions. There has been a concomitant rise in the rate and number of prisoners being released to the community, noting that remand and short sentence prisoners make up the large majority of releasees. Many thousands of these releasees are back in prison within two years: on the prison conveyor belt cycling in and out. The majority of prisoners are from severely disadvantaged backgrounds, with serious health, mental health and disability concerns. Those with mental and cognitive disability and a history of abuse are grossly over-represented amongst the prison population, as are Indigenous Australians. In formal terms, the prison has a number of purposes: punishment, deterrence, protection and rehabilitation. But the legitimacy and indeed the viability of these purposes for the majority of those in prison and for the wider citizenry in the context of increasing imprisonment in Australia is challenged using social justice and community well-being analyses.
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