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State of the Nation

Incarceration today is a massive undertaking that employs thousands, costs billions, and yields a complex set of results—some of which are outlined on these pages.

by VICE Staff
Sep 7 2015, 12:00am

This article appears in The Incarceration Issue, a special edition of VICE Australia

In Australia, and at the off-shore locations Australia runs, human beings are being liberated of their freedom at record rates. But this isn't the weirdly romanticised version of imprisonment from the stories of our convict past. Incarceration today is a massive undertaking that employs thousands, costs billions, and yields a complex set of results—some of which are outlined on these pages.

Imprisonment costs equate to around $292 per prisoner, per day. Australian full-time workers earn on average $297 for a day's work.

The number of prisoners in Australia has reached a record high of 35,467.

Our female prison population increased by 60 percent between 2000 and 2010. The increase in male prisoners was 35 percent.

Corrective services cost Australia $3.4 billion in 2014, 4.9 percent more than the year before.

Mental illness is two to three times as prevalent in our prisoners than those in the community. Prisoners are 10–15 times more likely to have a psychotic disorder.

Australia now spends around $1 billion a year on offshore processing of asylum seekers. The combined 2015 UN budget for refugee programs in South East Asia is $218.5 million.

To detain a single person on Nauru or Manus Island costs Australians around $450,000 per year.

People leaving prison are 12 times more likely to die within their first four weeks out than their non-imprisoned counterparts. In the first year, their risk of death is six times greater, and this will remain three times greater during the 15 years after their release. One in five deaths during the first year are due to drug overdose.

Deaths in immigration detention are excluded from the Australian Government's Deaths in Custody records.

GENDER IN JAIL
Male: 32,686 (92%)
Female: 2,780 (8%)

MEDIAN AGE
Male: 34.0
Female: 34.5

INDIGENOUS PRISONERS
28 percent of these prisoners are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

MOST COMMON OFFENCES

Male:
Acts intended to cause injury: 21%
Unlawful entry with intent: 11.9%
Sexual assault: 11.7%
Illicit drug offences: 11.5%
Offences against justice: 10%
Robbery / extortion: 9.5%

Female:
Acts intended to cause injury: 19.8%
Illicit drug offences 17%
Offences against justice 11.2%
Unlawful entry with intent 9.5%
Homicide 9.3%
Fraud/deception 7.8%
Theft 7.8%
Robbery / extortion: 7.1%
Sexual assault: 1.6%

(Sources: Productivity Commission Report on Government Services 2015; ABS Average Weekly Earnings 2014; Fairfax/AIHW**; ABS Prisoners in Australia, 2010, AIC; Productivity Commission Report on Government Services 2015, ASRC; ABC Fact Check; The Conversation***; ABS Corrective Services, Australia, March 2015)

Illustrations by Freda Chui