Robyne Cuerel

Prisoner numbers surge across Australia

AUSTRALIA'S jails housed a record 35,467 prisoners in the March quarter - and last financial year the jail system cost taxpayers $2.6 billion.

Australian Bureau of Statistics researchers have revealed indigenous people were far more likely to be locked up than any other cultural group, despite their low numbers in the country's overall population.

"The overall number of prisoners in Australia has increased annually by 2221 persons (7%) between the March quarter 2014 and the March quarter 2015," ABS spokesman William Milne said.

The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners increased annually by 618 inmates to 9838 persons - almost 12 times higher than the overall imprisonment rate.

The national average daily Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rate was 2241 prisoners per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of 194 inmates per 100,000 population.

While prisoner numbers surged, the number of people serving community corrections orders remained steady at 55,995 people.

Men were far more likely to be in jail, with 32,686 behind bars compared to 2780 women.

The Northern Territory recorded the biggest increase to its daily average imprisonment rate over the year - up from 864 prisoners per 100,000 adult population to 904.

Tasmania was the only state to record a decrease, from 119 to 118 prisoners per 100,000 adults.

But New South Wales had the most people behind bars, with its 11,244 prisoners making up 31% of the national prisoner population.

Nearly half of all federal prisoners were also in NSW.

A Productivity Commission report found the nation's prison system cost $2.6 billion to run in 2013/14, with a prisoner costing taxpayers an average of $292 a day - almost double the average daily wage of $160.

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