A justice reform group says “jailing is failing” in Australia. 

There are about 40,000 people behind bars in Australia, with incarceration reaching its highest rate in a century.

More than 70 per cent of people in jail have already served a sentence, while many others have not yet been sentenced or simply had nowhere to go after being arrested.

Australia currently spends over $3.6 billion every year on incarceration - a per capita rate that exceeds all Western European nations and Canada.

Members of the Justice Reform Initiative say simply painting offenders as bad people is too simplistic because victims often become offenders and likewise, offenders are often victims.

Justice Reform Initiative chairman Robert Tickner, a former Labor MP, says something has to change.

“Jailing is failing in so many respects, something like 70 per cent of people in prison have been there before,” he told the ABC this week.

“We need to educate the community, and remind our politicians, who know this very well, that imprisoning a growing number of people is costing Queenslanders $1 billion a year.”

Recent studies have shown that “intensive support” to help people find work, housing, and help with their mental health when they leave prison, can reduce the repeat offender rate by 65 per cent.

“We need to start putting the resources, a substantive investment, into keeping people out of jail,” Mr Tickner said.

“Keeping young people in juvenile detention costs $500,000 a year. If we invested 10 per cent of that in the people likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system [like] kids who are going through family trauma [that will help].

“Those kids are going to end up in juvenile detention and the statistics don't lie, they're going to end up in adult prison.”

Dr Ron Wilson - who taught in maximum security prison settings for decades - says that workplaces and society at large struggle to help the formerly incarcerated. 

“Right across Australia, jails are preparing people for jobs, it's very vocational and there's nothing wrong with that,” he told reporters.

“But there are a range of different complications. There are people whose sentence means there are a lot of occupations that are not available to them; and, a lot of jobs they're training for just aren't attractive to them.

“We need to look critically at what's happening in people's lives and help them that way.

“There are so many people in there who won't be a ripple in the community. There are many who are not all really bad.”