How much does prison really cost? Comparing the costs of imprisonment with community corrections


The costs associated with managing offenders in prison and in the community can be significant. Estimated costs are usually derived from the Report on government services, which reports both the operating expenditure and capital costs for prisons and community corrections. However, research has shown that sentencing a person to a period of incarceration can have much wider implications for the individual, their family, government and the broader community. These implications may be positive or negative, and may therefore generate both costs and savings. Understanding the wider costs associated with different sentence options can be helpful in informing effective correctional policy and practice. Yet relatively few studies have attempted to estimate the wider costs or savings associated with pathways through imprisonment or community corrections. The purpose of this research was to calculate the total net cost of pathways through imprisonment and community corrections in Victoria, taking into account a range of direct and indirect costs and savings associated with a matched cohort of prisoners and offenders. This study was undertaken in two stages. The first stage estimated the costs and savings accrued during sentences that began in 2009–10 (the reference episode). The second stage estimated the wider costs and savings for both this reference episode and subsequent pathways through imprisonment and community corrections over a five year period. The methodology used to develop these estimates and the results are presented in this report.


  • Acknowledgements
  • Acronyms
  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
  • Methodology
  • Costs and savings for the reference episode
  • Costs and savings over a five-year period
  • Conclusion
  • References