An economic analysis for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders: prison vs residential treatment

Economics Aboriginal Australians Crime Indigenous incarceration Australia

This report argues that $111, 000 can be saved per year per offender by diverting non-violent Indigenous offenders with substance use problems into treatment instead of prison.

The report has been produced by the major accounting firm Deloitte Access Economics and also reveals a further $92,000 per offender in the long term will be saved due to lower mortality and better health related quality of life outcomes.

Indigenous people only make up 2.5% of Australia’s population but figures now show Indigenous people make up 26% of Australia’s adult prison population. The report says greater investment in drug and alcohol treatment will clearly reduce the ever increasing number of Indigenous people in prisons.

Currently there are just over 29,000 prisoners incarcerated across Australia – with 26% of them (7,656) being Indigenous. Today, Indigenous adults are 1 4 times more likely to be incarcerated than non Indigenous people.

A recent Victorian study found 35% of those who have been imprisoned will return to prison within 2 years of release. However 50% of Indigenous prisoners would be back in prison within 2 years. High rates of recidivism can also be expected in all jurisdictions indicating that the incarceration of Indigenous offenders is likely to be associated with significant future costs to society.

NIDAC also highlights that despite a 1991 report from the Royal Commission into aboriginal deaths in custody which clearly highlighted the need to lower the number of Indigenous people in prison; this has simply no t been achieved. The 1991 Royal Commission clearly stated that "imprisonment should be utilised only as a sanction of last resort".

The report reveals in 2011 that Australia had 115 correctional custodial facilities and in 2010 – 2011 more than $3 billion was spent on Australian prisons ($2.3 billion was net opera ting expenditure and $0.8 billion was capital costs). In comparison in 2009 – 2010 there were 30 facilities nationwide providing residential drug and treatment services to Indigenous people. Further NIDAC investigation also reveals that for the past 2 years there has been a significant increase in government investment in prisons nationwide whilst a number of drug rehabilitation services to help Indigenous people have had their funding wound back which in some cases has led to closures .

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