Who does Australia Lock Up? The Social Determinants of Justice


Crime rates are generally decreasing and governments in Australia (as elsewhere) have committed to reducing recidivism. However, incarceration rates of certain groups continue to rise, including Indigenous and racialised peoples, those experiencing poverty, mental health issues, addiction, homelessness and people with cognitive disability. A large proportion are in custody for minor offences and/or not yet sentenced; however, political leaders have continued to defend their detention on the grounds of risk to community safety. The sudden drop in people incarcerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, without a commensurate rise in crime rates, highlighted the degree to which incarceration rates are a matter of policy decisions. For a time, public health priorities dominated criminal legal policies. Evidence on the social determinants of health that people experiencing social, economic, political and environmental disadvantage are more likely to experience poorer health outcomes has led to acceptance globally that public health policies must address systemic factors and not just focus on individual behaviour. In this article, we propose that a conceptual framework of the social determinants of justice could valuably inform efforts to reduce the criminalisation and incarceration of targeted and disadvantaged groups.

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Published: 2023-09-01
Pages:37 to 53
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How to Cite
McCausland, R. and Baldry, E. (2023) “Who does Australia Lock Up? The Social Determinants of Justice”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 12(3), pp. 37-53. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.2504.

Author Biographies

UNSW Sydney

Ruth McCausland is Associate Professor and UNSW Director of Yuwaya Ngarra-li, a community-led partnership with the Dharriwaa Elders Group in Walgett that grew from research collaboration on the criminalisation of Aboriginal people with mental and cognitive disability. Ruth has worked over the past 25 years in the fields of criminology, evaluation, human rights and community development. Her research focuses on systemic and community-led responses to criminalisation and incarceration.

Eileen Baldry AO FASSA FRSN is Professor of Criminology at UNSW Sydney, where she was appointed the first female and inaugural Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity Diversity and Inclusion in 2017. Her research and publications focus on social justice and include mental health and cognitive disability in criminal legal systems; criminalised women, Indigenous women and youth; education, training and employment for prisoners; homelessness and transition from prison; community development and social housing; and disability services.