Whatever happened to ‘Prison as a Last Resort’? Time now to consider the path towards abolition!

Peter Norden1
1Deakin University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

This paper highlights some of the issues contained in the presentation made at the Inaugural Tony Vinson Memorial Lecture at UNSW in September of this year.

This presentation also responds to the call by the new editors of the ANZSOC journal, Andrew Goldsmith and Mark Halsey, in the March 2017 edition, where they stated their priorities for the journal in the coming years:
‘We are interested to promote work centred on big and bold criminological ideas’. They indicated that they wanted to focus on ‘intractable criminological problems (such as) First Nations over-incarceration…’ They continued: ‘It is noticeable to us how often programs at criminology conferences barely engage with some of the issues on the front pages of newspapers or other media’.

Responding to that call, this paper intends to critique the role of the State in failing to limit the use of imprisonment to situations of serious crime and extending the prison estate to over-represent not only indigenous persons but also those non-indigenous persons who come from the most disadvantaged postcodes in Australia. It is time for our expanding prison systems across Australia to stop incarcerating those with a disability or addiction and to focus on its proper purpose: serious criminal activity.

The paper includes a 10 step pathway towards reducing the national prison population by 5% per year over the next 20 years!


Peter Norden is a Fellow of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology and an Honorary Fellow in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Deakin University. He has exercised many roles within the Victorian criminal justice system over 40 years. In 2007, he was made an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) ‘for services to community development through social research and programs aimed at assisting marginalised young people and offenders, and to the mental health sector in Australia’.

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