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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