The $3.8 billion expansion of the New South Wales prison estate by 7000 beds represents a manifest and very expensive failure of public policy.
There are three reasons why this is so. First, the lack of evidence to support the expansion; second, because prisons are a very blunt and inefficient crime control measure and finally, because of the opportunity cost of the expansion of the prison estate at the expense of productive investments to increase community well-being.
What is particularly noticeable in the NSW Government’s decision to spend $3.8 billion to expand the prison estate is the absence of a transparent cost-benefit analysis or economic appraisal revealing what alternative measures to achieve the policy objective of community safety were considered by the Government, on what grounds they were rejected and why an expanded prison estate was the preferred solution.
The NSW government’s lack of commitment to evidence-based criminal justice policy stands in contrast to developments in the United States, where the federal government and several states have legislated that public policy must be informed by evidence. If criminal justice policy in NSW is not based on evidence, the void will be filled by the noisy populism of the tabloid media and talk back radio.