Australia’s prisoners each cost an average of $292 per day, in a system that costs the nation $2.6 billion (after expenses) in 2013-14, new justice data from the Productivity Commission reveals.
The average prisoner costs Australia more than the average Australian’s daily earnings - $160, including weekends, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics earnings data.
Most Australian prisoners who are eligible to work do work, and close to a third of eligible prisoners are engaged in some form of education and/or training.
However, the rate of eligible prisoners in work and education differs greatly between Australia’s states and territories, the Productivity Commission report says.
Tasmania has the second highest costs per prisoner per day of any state or territory.
However, the island state has the lowest rate of inmates working and the second lowest rate of prisoners in education and training.
A Tasmanian Department of Justice spokesperson said the high fixed costs of operating prisons had a greater impact on small jurisdictions like Tasmania and the ACT.
A change in education and training for Tasmanian prisoners is partially the reason for low rates, while the employment rate for eligible prisoners is improving in Tasmania, the spokesperson said.
Rates of education and training are highest in the ACT and South Australia, and rates of prisoners in work are highest in NSW and Victoria.
Across Australia, the incarceration rate for Indigenous Australians was significantly higher than non-Indigenous Australians.
Just three per cent of Australia's population identifies as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.
Across Australia, Indigenous people are over-represented in Australian prisons.
The rate of Indigenous Australians in prison is 16 times higher than non-Indigenous people.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda said creating safer communities would be the key to reducing that over-representation.
"This means creating communities where violence is not tolerated and where victims have access to the entire spectrum of support services. It also means trying to prevent crime and violence from happening in the first place," Mr Gooda said.
"We can help create safer communities by investing in evidence-based prevention and treatment programs.
“In this context, justice reinvestment is a powerful strategy that diverts a portion of the funds for imprisonment to local communities where there is a high concentration of offenders."
The money Australia would have spent on imprisonment could be reinvested into services, which would keep people out of jail, he said.