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The number and rate of people imprisoned in Australia has risen rapidly over the past two decades. The largest rates of increase have been in remand, women and Indigenous prisoners. There has been a concomitant rise in the rate and number of prisoners being released back to the community. Many thousands of these releasees are back in prison within two years: on the prison conveyor belt cycling in and out. The majority of prisoners are from severely disadvantaged backgrounds, with serious health problems. Those with mental and cognitive disability and a history of abuse are grossly over-represented amongst the prison population as are Indigenous Australians. The prison is tasked with a number of purposes: punitive, deterrent, protective and rehabilitative. But the legitimacy and indeed the viability of these purposes for the majority of those in prison and for the wider citizenry in the context of increasing imprisonment in Australia is challenged using social justice and community well-being analyses.