Tasmanian prisons in need of reform

July 28, 2023 8:00 am in by
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Parliamentary hearings have revealed the state’s prisons are at 88% capacity, with the incarceration rate growing at a steady pace. 

Recent submissions at the Parliament of Tasmania’s inquiry into Tasmanian adult imprisonment and youth detention matters have argued that removing non-violent offenders from our prisons will save the state money. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 37 percent of Tasmanian prisoners have been incarcerated for a non-violent offense – a crime in which the offender has not used or threatened to use violent force upon a victim. 

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Institute of Public Affairs research analyst Mia Schlict presented a breakdown of the state’s spending on a per-prisoner basis. 

“The cost of housing one prisoner for one day is currently $560, which amounts to over $200,000 annually. This is 50,000 more than the national average,” said Ms Schlict.

She argued that removing nonviolent offenders from Tasmanian prisons would result in savings of approximately 47 million per year.

But JusTas CEO Don McCrae says that’s not quite true.

“The economies of scale suggest that now that we’ve got all the infrastructure and all the things that we need to make a prison run, having more people in there actually makes it cheaper per year,” Mr McCrae explains.

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While removing non-violent offenders from our institutions isn’t quite the money-saving quick-fix that the IPA claimed it would be – there are strong arguments for alternative programs incorporating rehabilitation and community service. 

Greg Barns, Chair of the Prisoners Legal Service, says the aim needs to be reducing the likelihood to reoffend. 

“One of the problems we’ve got in Tasmania is that our recidivism rates – in other words, people coming back into prison on release within a two year period – is very high, and it has been as high as 50%,” says Mr Barns.

“Jail itself needs to have a strong rehabilitation focus, much stronger than it has today.”  

In the meantime, the public hearings into our prison system will continue next month. 

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For more on this story, check out this week’s episode of iHeart Tassie:


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