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Criminal justice system costs

Costs for government services (police, prosecutions, courts, corrections and other related government agencies) are only available for financial years. For the purposes of this report, the financial year 2011–12 has been used in line with the discussion of reference periods above.

According to the Report on Government Services for 2011–12 (SCRGSP 2013), the total real recurrent expenditure (less revenue from own sources) on justice in 2010–11 was $13.1b. Of this, approximately $12.5b was spent on criminal justice. The remaining $635.5m was spent on the administration of civil courts.

Police costs

According to the Report on Government Services for 2011–12, real recurrent expenditure (including user cost of capital, less revenue from own sources and payroll tax) on police services for 2011–12 was $9,459m (SCRGSP 2013). This relates to state and territory policing only and excludes the cost of the AFP and other federal non-policing law enforcement agencies, which are included within Commonwealth costs below. Not all police time is spent on crime, however. For example, New South Wales Police Force (2012) estimated that almost 80 percent of time was spent either responding to incidents, criminal investigations or giving judicial support; the remaining 20 percent being spent on traffic and commuter services (although some of this time may have involved criminal matters) and support functions. The attribution of time by the New South Wales Police Force was similar to findings of the UK Her Majesty’s Inspectorate Constabulary (2012) who found that between 80–90 percent of police time was spent dealing directly or indirectly with crime. On the basis of an 80 percent allocation for crime-related functions, the total cost of policing crime in Australia in 2011–12 was $7,567m.

Prosecution agency costs

Previous AIC research into the costs of crime has excluded the cost of public prosecutions of criminal conduct. As this is an important area of expenditure, this is being canvassed in the present report for the first time. The recurrent expenditure on state and territory prosecution agencies in 2011–12 was $303m (see Table 29). The costs of the Office of the CDPP are included within Commonwealth costs of crime below.

Table 29 Costs of prosecution agencies
Jurisdiction Total appropriation ($m)
New South Wales 112.1
Victoria 67.8
Queensland 40.7
South Australia 18.3
Western Australia 38.9
Tasmania 6.3
Northern Territory 9.8
Australian Capital Territory 8.9
Total 303

Sources: ACTDPP 2012; DPP NSW 2012; DPP Victoria, OPP Victoria & CPP Victoria 2012; ODPP Queensland 2012; ODPP South Australia 2012; ODPP Western Australia 2012

Court costs

According to the Report on Government Services for 2011–12, real recurrent expenditure (net of monies received through electronic infringement and enforcement systems less payroll tax) on criminal courts for 2011–12 was $779,956,000 (SCRGSP 2013). This relates to state and territory courts at supreme, district/county and magistrates’ levels including children’s courts, coroners courts and probate registries, as well as federal courts, but excluding the High Court of Australia and tribunals, and specialist jurisdiction courts such as Indigenous courts, circle sentencing courts and drug courts. The cost of criminal matters handled by the High Court of Australia is included as part of the federal government costs below.

In the case of coroners’ courts, not all coronial proceedings relate to criminal matters, as coroners are required to investigate all deaths that have occurred if the death appears to be unexpected, unnatural, or violent, the death is of a person who was in custody or care, or the death occurred as a result of a fire or explosion (New South Wales Coroners Court 2013). Costs of coroners’ courts for each jurisdiction in 2011–12 were $41.1m. It is estimated that one-half of national coroners’ court costs relate to crime, amounting to $20.6m which was deducted from the above Productivity Commission figure, making a total of $759,356,000.

Corrective services

According to the Report on Government Services for 2011–12, total recurrent operating expenditure and capital costs on prisons and community corrections, less payroll tax in 2011–12 dollars was $3,255,782,000 for prisons, $103,013,000 for transportation costs and $478,053,000 for community corrections, totalling $3,836,848,000 (SCRGSP 2013). This relates to public and private sector-operated adult custodial facilities and community corrections. These corrective services costs do not include juvenile justice costs, which are discussed below, nor the costs of police custody (which are included within policing costs above), offenders (or alleged offenders) held in psychiatric institutions or people held in immigration or military detention.

Commonwealth agencies

A number of Commonwealth agencies have functions and programs that relate to crime and its control. As noted above, where new crime reduction programs are used, government outlays increase accordingly and so the cost of responding to crime is closely related to the ways in which criminal justice policy is framed. On the basis of information presented in Department of Attorney-General 2011–12 Portfolio Budget Statements, the total resources allocated to the portfolio were $4,762m (AGD 2013). Examining the expense measures for each agency that could have some crime relevance, a percentage of total resources was estimated for those portfolio agencies that have some criminal justice and crime-related relevance (see Table 30). The percentage is indicative only, as precise crime-related cost allocation was not always apparent. The total estimated resources allocated to crime and its control, excluding terrorism across all agencies was $1,792m in 2011–12.

Table 30 Costs of relevant Attorney-General’s Portfolio agencies
Relevant agencies Total appropriation ($m) Crime percentage (%) Estimated crime costs ($m)
Attorney-General’s Department 800 25 200
Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity 6 100 6
Australian Crime Commission 98 100 98
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service 1,450 15 218
Australian Federal Police 1,370 70 959
Australian Institute of Criminology 5 100 5
Australian Law Reform Commission 3 25 0.8
Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation 394 30 118
Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre 67 100 67
CrimTRAC Agency 4 100 4
Federal Court of Australia 91 10 9
Federal Magistrates’ Court of Australia 53 10 5
High Court of Australia 19 30 8
Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions 92 100 92
Office of Parliamentary Counsel 12 15 1.8
Total 3,788 - 1,792

In addition to agencies within the Attorney-General’s Portfolio, there are other Commonwealth departments and agencies that undertake functions in relation to the prevention, control or response to crime. One example is the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Biosecurity Division that works with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service in maintaining the integrity of Australian borders. The Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry allocated $297m in the 2011–12 financial period for quarantine and export services at Australian ports and borders. Other agencies that have some crime-related functions include those dealing with Indigenous Australians, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, agencies dealing with communications and computer security, research and scientific agencies, corporate and business regulatory agencies, revenue and finance agencies, and health and welfare agencies. Further research is needed to disaggregate the crime-related functions of these departments and agencies from their other functions in order to provide an accurate assessment of their contribution to the overall costs of crime in Australia, while ensuring that double counting does not occur.

State and territory agencies

Each state and territory has various agencies responsible for criminal justice-related matters including policy analysis, legislation, administration and the prevention of crime and corruption. These generally fall within Attorney-Generals’ or Justice portfolios. An attempt was made to determine the costs associated with their crime-related functions, other than the costs associated with police, prosecutions, courts, correctional services, forensic mental health services, legal aid and juvenile justice that have been accounted for in the relevant sections elsewhere in the current calculations. Examples of these state and territory crime-related functions include the work of anti-corruption agencies, crime prevention services, human rights and anti-discrimination functions, and other criminal justice policy work. These additional state and territory costs of criminal justice are presented in Table 31. The total additional crime-relevant cost for 2011 was $903,989m.

Table 31 Additional criminal justice costs of state and territory agencies (excluding police, prosecutions, courts, corrections, forensic mental health services, legal aid and juvenile justice)a
Jurisdiction Agency—division Division cost ($’000) Estimated crime-related cost ($’000)
New South Wales Department of Attorney General & Justice (total appropriation $5,724.1m)
Court Support Servicesb 95,361 47,681
Crime Prevention and Community Services 119,975 119,975
Offender program—reduce recidivism 70,405 70,405
NSW Crime Commission 18,051 18,051
Sub-total 394,477 256,122
Percentage of total for jurisdiction 7.0% 5.0%
Victoria Department of Justice (Total appropriation $4,430m)
The Office of Police Integrity 26,800 26,800
Supporting the Judicial Processc 122,833 61,417
Community Safety and Crime Prevention 46,000 46,000
Sub-total 195,633 134,217
Percentage of total for jurisdiction 4.0% 3.0%
Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General (Total appropriation $594.9m)
Criminal Justice 298,824 298,824
Human Rightsd 38,069 19,035
Crime and Misconduct Commission 16,607 16,607
Witness Protection 5,975 5,975
Sub-total 359,475 340,441
Percentage of total for jurisdiction 60.4% 57.0%
South Australiae Attorney-General’s Department (Total appropriation $142.4m)
Forensic Services 20,329 20,329
Police Complaints Authority 1,326 1,326
Justice Portfolio 19,041 9,521
Sub-total 40,696 31,176
Percentage of total for jurisdiction 29.0% 22.0%
Western Australia Department of the Attorney General (Total appropriation $496.3m)
Attorney-General’s general budget 128,105 64,053
Corruption and Crime Commission 32,747 32,747
Sub-total 160,852 96,800
Percentage of total for jurisdiction 32.0% 20.0%
Tasmania Attorney-General and Minister for Justice (Total appropriation $53.8m)
Support and Compensation for Victims of Crime 7,970 7,970
Protective Jurisdictions 1,811 906
Legislation Development review 602 301
Anti-Discrimination Commissiond 1,191 119
Sub-total 10,972 9,296
Percentage of total for jurisdiction 20.0% 17.0%
Northern Territory Department of Justice (Total appropriation $259.3m)
Community Justice Policy 3,481 3,481
Legal Policy 2,544 2,035
Research & Statistics 1,651 1,651
Community Justice Grantsf 7,596 3,798
Anti-Discrimination Commissiond 1,209 605
Sub-total 16,481 11,570
Percentage of total for jurisdiction 6.0% 4.0%
ACT Justice and Community Safety Directorate (Total appropriation $292.4m)
Policy Advice and Justice Programs 9,430 9,430
Protection of Rightsd 9,110 4,555
Improved access to law and Justice Services ATSI 147 147
Court security and court transport unit 952 952
Sub-total 19,639 15,058
Percentage of total for jurisdiction 7.0% 5.0%
All jurisdictions Additional criminal justice costs 1,138,500 903,989


a: Total appropriation excluding police, prosecutions, courts, corrections, forensic services, legal aid, juvenile justice and victim support that have been included in other sections

b: For ‘court costs’ and ‘supporting judicial processes’ 50% of those costs were attributed to criminal justice costs as not all court cases are criminal

c: Of this amount, $49,367 was deducted for the Victorian Forensic Mental Health costs which are included separately below

d: Half of the costs for ‘human rights’, ‘protection of rights’ or ‘anti-discrimination’ programs were attributed to costs of crime costs, except for Tasmania where 10% of the anti-discrimination costs were attributed as their program focused on community awareness

e: South Australia: Forensic Services related primarily to coronial and police investigations, for example, DNA technology, drug analysis in driving cases or in drug-related cases, and sexual assault kit screens, there for 100% of these costs were attributed to criminal justice costs

f: In the Northern Territory 50% of the costs associated with ‘Community Justice Grants’ were attributed to criminal justice costs, some of those costs bring for non-government organisations which were not involved with crime prevention

Sources: ACT Government 2012; NSW Government 2012; NTDTF 2012; Queensland Government 2012; SADTF 2012; TDTF 2012; Victorian Government 2012; Western Australian Government 2012

Forensic mental health services

At present, there is not a national system of forensic mental health services in Australia, which means there are differences in the services provided by state and territory jurisdictions (Hanley & Ross 2013). Research has shown that offenders have higher rates of mental illness than those in the general community and it has been estimated that one-third of all people institutionalised with mental health issues are in prison (Ogloff et al. 2007). As the Productivity Commission costs for corrections do not include those offenders held in psychiatric institutions, it was necessary to consider state and territory budgets associated with these functions. The Victorian forensic mental health budget was almost $49m for 2011–12 (VIFMH 2012), the New South Wales Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network’s net cost of service for 2011–12 was $176m. The South Australian, Tasmanian and Australian Capital Territory Government services budgets for forensic mental health services, combined, totalled just over $23m. Costs for forensic mental health for Western Australia and Queensland could not be disaggregated from community mental health costs and have not been included. No details of forensic mental health services were available for the Northern Territory. For those states and territories with forensic mental health costs available, the total for 2011–12 was $248m.

Legal aid

Legal aid provides legal services to disadvantaged people in need of legal support. There are eight independent legal aid commission in each of the states and territories in Australia. For the 2011–12 financial year, funding for legal aid comprised $206m from the Commonwealth government and $270m from state and territory governments (SCRGSP 2013). The Commonwealth allocation has already been accounted for as part of the Attorney-General’s portfolio, leaving a cost of $206m for the states and territories.

Juvenile justice

Youth justice systems are responsible for attending to young people (predominantly aged 10–17 years, although this may vary between states and territories) who have committed or are alleged to have committed an offence while considered by law to be a juvenile (SCRGSP 2013). The total cost of juvenile justice services across Australia in 2011–12 was $640m (SCRGSP 2013). This figure included the costs associated with juveniles held in detention, community corrections and juveniles involved in group conferencing.

Table 32 summarises the criminal justice system costs for 2011–12, with comparisons to previous AIC estimates for 2001–02 and 2005–06.

Table 32 Criminal justice costs in Australia
Category 2001–02 costs ($m) 2005–06 costs ($m) 2011–12 costs ($m)
Police costs 3,230 4,480 7,567
Prosecution costs Not included Not included 303
Court costs 410 466 759
Corrective Services 1,590 1,590 3,837
Commonwealth portfolio agencies 820 2,041 1,792
State and territory agencies Not included Not included 904
Forensic mental health services Not included Not included 248
Legal aid Not included Not included 206
Juvenile justice 350 416 640
Total 6,400 8,993 16,256

Source: The main source of figures was the Productivity Commission 2013, state and territory budgets for 2011–12 and Attorney-General’s Department portfolio budget 2011–12

Other criminal justice costs excluded

In addition to the above criminal justice costs are a number of other state and territory functions that are relevant. These include the costs of alternative dispute resolution, the cost of consumer affairs including consumer protection relating to criminal conduct and offender assistance expenditure. Owing to the difficulties of disaggregating the costs related to crime from each of these functions, they have been excluded from the present calculations.

Last updated
3 November 2017