Revealing the true costs of recidivism
Updated: Dec 20, 2020
It’s a word that’s hard to pronounce, but harder to hear once you know what it means for individuals, their families and the community at large.
Recidivism is the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend. It originates from the Latin recidere – to fall back – and when someone falls back into criminal activity, it creates a ripple effect of negative impact.
The cost of recidivism reaches beyond the $111,000 a year it costs to keep someone in prison in Queensland.
To understand the true cost of recidivism, you must first understand just how significant this problem is within the criminal justice system.
Every month in Queensland, more than 1,000 prisoners are released back into the community. Over 50% of these prisoners will reoffend and return to prison or to a community correction order within two years.
That’s right. More than half of the people in prison today, will return within two years.
People with a criminal record are often significantly disadvantaged before their conviction. One in four Queenslanders in prison have a chronic health condition, receive medication for mental health issues or were homeless in the month leading up to their conviction. One in two were unemployed in the 30 days before they entered prison, and two out of three have not studied past year ten.
People with an experience of incarceration have some of the worst health, economic and social outcomes of all Australians. The number of challenges these people can face can be confronting, and puts them at risk of long-term, intergenerational welfare dependence and incarceration.
Given the nature of these challenges, it will not come as a surprise that the cost of high recidivism rates extends beyond the prisoner themselves.
A prison sentence alters family networks, disrupts parent–child relationships and can place additional burdens on community services, schools and family supports. With limited support available for prisoners and their families on release, these challenges can be compounded by poor mental health and the pressure of reintegration. Studies suggest the indirect costs of imprisonment to be in the realm of $48,000 per year per prisoner.
Earlier this year, the Queensland Productivity Commission (QPC) delivered its findings following an inquiry into imprisonment and recidivism in Queensland. The report found that despite decreasing crime rates, imprisonment rates are increasing. The QPC highlighted that imprisonment costs Queensland almost $1 billion annually. These costs climb to more than $4 billion in incarceration costs annually across Australia.
These are the financial costs of recidivism, but the social and emotional costs are far greater. Many prisoners have been victims themselves - of traumatic childhoods, abuse, neglect and addiction. These are complex problems that compound as the cycle continues.
Incarceration has a profound impact on prisoners, their families and the community. The stark statistics of recidivism demonstrate just how significant a challenge this is – but more importantly, just how significant the opportunity is to create positive change and break the cycle of recidivism.
workRestart exists to break that cycle.