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Our failing justice system must be fixed

New figures show the number of people in Australian prisons has increased for the fifth year in a row.

Friday December 9, 2016

Australian Red Cross has described the justice system as 'broken' with new figures showing the number of people in Australian prisons has increased for the fifth year in a row.

The figures, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), show that there were 38,845 people in prison on the night of 30 June 2016, representing an eight per cent increase from the same time in 2015, and increases of 10 per cent and seven per cent from the two previous years.

The ABS says the increase in the Australian prison population over the past year is largely attributable to the increase in people in prison who haven't been sentenced but are kept in custody on remand in prison until they know the outcome of their trial.

"We believe our justice system is broken. It entrenches disadvantage. It is expensive - costing $4.4b every year, and it doesn't make our communities safer - 40 percent of prisoners reoffend," says Australian Red Cross National Manager of Community Programs, Helen Sheppard.

"When you look at the issue, you'll see the people who are most likely to be jailed are from disadvantaged backgrounds, have mental health issues, have experienced physical or sexual abuse and have low education levels. In fact, people from poor communities are six times more likely to be in prison and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 13 times more likely to be jailed than non-indigenous people."

Ms Sheppard says the justice system issues can be addressed but we need to start now.

"Red Cross is calling for a 10% reduction in Australian prison numbers with at least half the savings diverted to justice reinvestment."

"There's a sound economic argument to this approach. If we reduced the incarceration rate by just 2% a year, we could save almost $2.3 billion over five years. This money could be reinvested in addressing the underlying causes of crime." Ms Sheppard concluded.

To help the Red Cross continue its work in justice programs and other community services, please donate at or call 1800 811 700.

For media inquiries, please contact Kylie Johnson on 0466 464 695 or at