ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media Release: Positive results on prisoner numbers but more to do

9 December 2021

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has welcomed the ABS 2021 Prisoners in Australia data released today that shows a decrease in the total number of prisoners in the ACT for the third successive year.

The data, comparing prisoner numbers as of 30 June 2020 to numbers as of 30 June 2021, showed a decline of 16% (70) to 379 prisoners. The imprisonment rate also decreased by 16%, down from 135 to 113 prisoners per 100,000 adult population.

ACTCOSS CEO, Dr Emma Campbell said: “This ABS data is a point in time snapshot of detainee numbers, that can rise and fall across the year. However, the overall downward trend in the ACT’s prisoner numbers is welcome. This change in prisoner numbers demonstrates the value of early intervention, targeted supports and a respectful, human rights-based approach to justice and policing.   

While welcoming today’s numbers, ACTCOSS said that the ACT still had a long way to go to improve justice and policing, not least in ensuring our justice system is non-discriminatory and fully human rights compliant.

Dr Campbell said: “ACTCOSS has continually advocated for reform of the ACT justice system. We need to ensure that people's rights, safety and health are protected, and that people are treated with dignity and respect when engaging with the ACT justice and corrections system.

“In particular we need to address the continued overrepresentation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples in our justice system.”

ACTCOSS has made a submission to the Inquiry into Community Corrections in the ACT with recommendations on how to improve the ACT’s Community Corrections system. In its submission to the Inquiry, ACTCOSS called for key actions including:  

  • A high-level commission of inquiry into the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system
  • Expansion of mental health and rehabilitation treatment services
  • Significant investment into affordable social housing and sustainable justice housing
  • The implementation of a ‘no-release into homelessness’ policy that does not increase the time people remain in prison
  • Additional funding and acceleration of the Disability Justice Strategy
  • More funding for community legal services
  • A doubling of funding for the drug and alcohol treatment sector
  • A focus on LGBTQIA+ experiences in the justice system; and
  • More evidence-based intervention programs for family violence perpetrators.

Today's ABS data showed that the decline in the number of prisoners was across all categories of detainees including male, female, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples, sentenced and unsentenced, as well as prisoners with and without prior imprisonment. However, the data also highlighted that First Nations peoples continued to be significantly overrepresented in the ACT’s justice system. As of 30 June 2021, 98 of the ACT’s 379 prisoners, or 26% of detainees, were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

Dr Campbell said: ‘If we are to achieve a sustained decrease in numbers of detainees and a fairer and non-discriminatory justice system, the ACT Government must respond to calls from the community to implement much needed improvements and reforms.

“That includes implementing recommendations from a multitude of reports, including the Healthy Prison Review and the Our Booris, Our Way Review, that have highlighted opportunities to improve the justice system,” Dr Campbell concluded.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.

For more information or comment, please contact
Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617 or 02 6202 7200.