Incarceration rates are soaring across the country, despite official crime rates falling. Over the last five years, the number of people in custody has jumped 40 percent, from 29,000 to 41,000.
The law and order campaigning and moral panics in recent years have been felt on two fronts.
First, tighter restrictions on bail have led to an almost doubling of the unsentenced prisoner population, from fewer than 7,000 to almost 13,000. One-third of prisoners have not yet been found guilty of anything.
Second, tougher laws have increased the sentenced population by about the same amount. Overall, the imprisonment rate has increased from 167 people per 100,000 to 216 per 100,000. Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, it is 2,142.
Charges of intent to cause injury and illicit drug offences are the key drivers of growth. But it isn’t necessarily the crime being committed, but the sort of person doing the committing, that matters.
Those committing fraud, deception and related offences – the things politicians and those in the world of high finance do daily – continue to make up a minuscule portion of the total prisoner population.
Prisons are now overcrowded and state governments are building more. But we know who they will be stuffed with: overwhelmingly, poor people, Indigenous people and working class people numbing their existence with drugs or getting into scraps with each other.
The big criminals ripping off the country and making everyone else’s lives miserable will continue to live in their mansions.