Australian Bureau of Statistics
4517.0 - Prisoners in Australia, 2002
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/02/2003
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7. Excluded from the collection are:
8. In all states and territories except Victoria and Queensland, persons remanded or sentenced to adult custody are aged 18 years and over. Persons under 18 years are treated as juveniles in most Australian courts and are not remanded or sentenced to custody in adult prisons, other than in exceptional circumstances. However, in Victoria and Queensland 'adult' refers to persons aged 17 years and over.
9. In addition to the general rules of inclusion and exclusion for the scope of the National Prisoner Census, the following state and territory differences should be noted:
JURISDICTION OF CUSTODY
10. Persons included in the National Prisoner Census were counted in the state or territory in which they were held in custody regardless of which state or territory imposed the sentence being served.
11. Although the Australian Capital Territory commenced detaining some sentenced fine default only prisoners at their remand centre during 2000, persons sentenced to full-time custody by Australian Capital Territory courts are primarily held in New South Wales prisons. Some unsentenced persons from the Australian Capital Territory may also be held in New South Wales prisons when the capacity of the Australian Capital Territory remand centre is exceeded. The publication now includes 'Total Australian Capital Territory' prisoner numbers and 'Total Australian Capital Territory' imprisonment rates to provide a greater understanding of the number of prisoners sentenced in the Australian Capital Territory. Data continues to be provided in the tables based on counts of Australian Capital Territory prisoners in New South Wales prisons as a subset of the New South Wales figures (labelled ACT in NSW), and Australian Capital Territory prisoners held in the Australian Capital Territory (labelled ACT in ACT).
12. Statistics in this publication are derived from information on each prisoner collected by corrective services agencies within each state and territory.
13. In all states and territories persons are asked during entry into custody whether they identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. It is uncommon for corrective services agencies to collect Indigenous status from other than the person's own identification.
Interpreting Indigenous statistics
14. Tables 1, 2, 4, 8, 12, 13, 15 and 16 in this publication provide nationally comparable statistics on the imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) people. There are a number of issues that bear on the statistical measures of Indigenous imprisonment.
15. The first and most basic measure of Indigenous imprisonment is the number of persons imprisoned. Imprisoned persons are classified as Indigenous if they identify themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander at the time they are received into prison custody. These statistics in Prisoners in Australia are derived from administrative records held by corrective services agencies in each jurisdiction. The accuracy of the Indigenous component of the statistics is dependent upon the quality of the information collected by these agencies.
16. The second measure is the Indigenous proportion of the prisoner population. This relates the number of Indigenous persons in custody to the total number of persons in custody, and provides a basis for comparing the composition of the prison population across jurisdictions.
17. The third measure of Indigenous imprisonment is the rate of imprisonment, that is the number of Indigenous prisoners per 100,000 adults in the Indigenous population. This relates the number of Indigenous persons imprisoned in any jurisdiction to the size of the Indigenous population in that jurisdiction. All other things being equal, a jurisdiction the size of the Northern Territory with a large Indigenous population will have a larger number of Indigenous prisoners than a jurisdiction such as Tasmania with a small Indigenous population. The rate of imprisonment provides a basis for comparison. See also paragraphs 23-26 of these Explanatory Notes.
18. Imprisonment rates enable comparison of prisoner populations across states and territories. Prisoner rates are expressed per 100,000 adult population, which is in accord with international, state and territory practice.
19. For the purpose of this publication the adult population figures used in the calculation of rates are for persons aged 17 years and over. While for some states and territories different ages apply for persons sentenced to adult custody (see Explanatory Note, paragraph 8), the use of a single denominator is unlikely to have a major impact on the figures.
20. All estimates and projections for the Australian Capital Territory exclude Jervis Bay Territory. All estimates and projections for Australia exclude the external territories of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
21. Rates for the general adult population are calculated using the preliminary June 2002 Estimated Resident Population (ERP) figures (refer Appendix 2 and Australian Demographic Statistics, June Quarter 2002 (cat. no. 3101.0)) which use the results of the 2001 Census of Population and Housing as a benchmark. Caution should be exercised when comparing rate changes over time as ERP estimates for 1997-2001 are benchmarked on the 1996 Census and ERP estimates for 1992-1996 are benchmarked on the 1991 Census. It is not anticipated that the different benchmarks will have a noticeable impact on imprisonment rates at the national level.
22. Imprisonment rates by birthplace figures presented in table 5 are calculated using June 2000 Estimated Resident Population by Country of Birth data (from the Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2001 (cat. no. 3101.0)) as the denominator for each birthplace. These estimates were the latest available at the time of preparing this publication. Although the denominator data are for a reference period two years earlier than the prisoner census counts by birthplace, it is not anticipated that the difference in reference periods will have a noticeable impact on these rates. The published list of countries of birth does not cover all birthplaces of prisoners and it is possible that for some birthplaces not listed in table 5 their imprisonment rates may be higher than those published. The list of published birthplaces has been kept constant since 1998 to maximise time series comparison. The 1998 list was based on publishing data only for those birthplaces which had a population of 25 or more prisoners. Future issues of the publication may add to the list where a birthplace records counts of 25 or more prisoners on a consistent basis.
Indigenous imprisonment rates
23. Rates for the Indigenous adult population in this publication are based on the projections for 30 June 2002 (refer Appendix 3 and Experimental Projections of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population 30 June 1996 to 30 June 2006 (cat. no. 3231.0)). These projections are based on the results of the 1996 Census of Population and Housing.
24. Two series of these projections have been published. The lower of the two series was used in calculating rates for the Indigenous adult population in this publication. The 'low series' assumes no change in propensity for people to identify themselves as Indigenous since the 1996 Population Census.
25. A new set of projections of the Indigenous population, based on the 2001 Census of Population and Housing, are due for release in August 2003 in the publication Experimental Estimates and Projections of Indigenous Australians (cat. no. 3238.0). For the next release of Prisoner Census data (the 2003 Prisoner Census), Indigenous imprisonment rates will be calculated using the data from these updated estimates.
26. As the currently used 'low series' assumes no change in the propensity of people to identify themselves as Indigenous, if the data from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing show an increased propensity then there will be implications to imprisonment rates when data from Experimental Estimates and Projections of Indigenous Australians (cat. no. 3238.0) are used. An increased propensity to identify as Indigenous would result in increased estimates of the Indigenous population. For the same number of Indigenous prisoners a larger estimate for the denominator would result in a lower imprisonment rate compared with a smaller estimate. If there is a change in propensity to identify then this will impact on the ability to compare movements in the imprisonment rates between the 2002 data and subsequent data.
27. The legal status of an offender is determined by the warrant(s) or court order(s) which provide the legal basis for the detention in custody of the offender. The classification is as follows:
30. Some offenders may have more than one type of warrant issued against them; therefore it is possible for an offender to have dual status (e.g. under sentence for some offences and awaiting appeal results for others, or under sentence and awaiting deportation). The counting rules for determining the legal status of an offender at the time of the National Prisoner Census are as follows:
COURT OF SENTENCE/REMAND
31. The court of sentence/remand refers to whether the offender was sentenced or remanded to custody by the Supreme Court, the District or County Court or the Lower Courts such as the Magistrates' or Childrens Courts. The rules adopted for coding the level of court are:
32. For the purpose of this collection, an episode is defined as the period from an offender's date of reception into custody of a corrective services agency for a particular offence(s)/charge(s) to the time when all warrants holding the person in custody, on remand or under sentence, expire and the person is discharged from custody.
DATE OF RECEPTION
33. This is defined as the date the prisoner was originally received into a gazetted prison in a state or territory for the current episode, regardless of legal status changes since that date and regardless of any authorised or unauthorised temporary leave of absence. Counting rules for persons returning to custody from an escape attempt or parole are as follows:
34. Since the 1996 National Prisoner Census, Victorian and Northern Territory corrective service agencies have supplied the reception date for prisoners according to the following definition: the reception date is the latest date at which the prisoner is received into prison, whether at the commencement of the current episode or after returning to prison after having breached parole or having been captured following escape.
35. Courts can set a term of imprisonment as either a fixed sentence - one that specifies a single term of custody without parole - or a 'parole' sentence comprising a maximum term and a minimum term. Alternatively, courts may not set a term of imprisonment, but rather, may apply an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment such as life.
36. The minimum term is that period that must be served before the prisoner is eligible for release from custody to parole, and the difference between the maximum and minimum term is the period that will be served on parole if the prisoner is released at his or her earliest eligibility date. While parole is generally granted at the earliest eligibility date, prisoners may be denied parole for some or all of the period up to the expiry of their maximum term. For both fixed and maximum-minimum sentences, the period actually served in custody may be less than the stated time to serve where administrative mechanisms such as sentence remissions are applied.
37. The aggregate sentence is the longest period that the offender may be detained under sentence in the current episode. Charges pending which are likely to extend the current episode are ignored. In states and territories where a new episode is counted when a person returns to prison from parole, the unexpired portion of the prior episode is usually incorporated into the aggregate sentence for the new episode.
Expected time to serve
38. The expected time to serve is the period of imprisonment which a convicted prisoner is expected to serve and in most cases refers to the time elapsed between the date of reception for this episode (see Explanatory Notes, paragraphs 33-34) and the earliest date of release.
39. The time a prisoner is expected to serve in custody depends upon the sentence(s) originally handed down, the system of remissions and the forms of parole available in the various states and territories and whether any time was spent in custody prior to reception, for example, time on remand or in police custody. The rules governing date of release are complex and differ between the states and territories. The calculation of the earliest date of release in each state and territory is described in the Explanatory Notes, paragraphs 40-49.
40. In New South Wales, the Sentencing Act 1989 changed the way in which dates of release are calculated compared with previous years. The current sentencing rules are as follows:
41. In Victoria, the calculation is based on the minimum sentence, if one has been imposed. If no minimum sentence has been imposed, the earliest date of release is based on the fixed-term sentence. Time spent in detention prior to the commencement of the sentence counts toward the time expected to be served under sentence. Sentencing rules are:
42. In Queensland, with the exception of sentences of indefinite length such as Life, calculations are based on the date an offender was eligible for parole.
43. Release dates are calculated as follows:
45. Where a prisoner has a NPP, and an aggregate sentence of five years or more, the earliest date of release is the earliest date the prisoner can be released by the Parole Board. If this date has expired and no further release date has been set by the Parole Board, the earliest date of release becomes the aggregate sentence end date, which in the case of Life or Other indeterminate sentences would be unknown.
46. In Western Australia,
47. In Tasmania the calculation is based on the totality of the sentence liable to be served minus one-third but shall not operate so as to reduce the sentence below three months.
48. In the Northern Territory sentence remissions for new prisoners were abolished on 1 July 1996. Expected time to serve is calculated as follows:
49. Prisoners sentenced in the Australian Capital Territory and who are held in New South Wales prisons are subject to New South Wales calculations for date of release.
Mean/median sentence length
50. Prior to 1994, indeterminate sentences were assigned an arbitrary number of years for the purpose of including such sentences in the calculation of mean and median sentence lengths. Life sentences were assumed to have an aggregate sentence length of over 10 years and an average term of 13 years and were included in the calculation of mean and median sentence lengths for both aggregate and expected time to serve. 'Governor's/Queen's Pleasure' and 'Forensic Patients' were assumed to average five years for those whose MSO involved violence and three years for all others and were only included in the calculation of mean and median expected time to serve.
51. For the 1994 and subsequent publications, it was decided not to assign values to indeterminate or part-time sentences. Therefore, prisoners with Indeterminate and Periodic detention sentences are excluded from the calculation of the mean and median aggregate and expected time to serve.
52. Changes to the treatment of prisoners who have a 'Life with minimum' sentence have occurred for the 2002 data. Between 1994 and 2001, these sentences were not included as part of the calculation of the mean and median sentence lengths for prisoners' expected time to serve in prison. Advice provided to the ABS by the National Corrections Advisory Group indicated that they should be included as part of the calculations. Their inclusion has increased the mean for the expected time to serve by 0.4 months, but has had no impact on the median value for expected time to serve.
53. Calculations of mean and median sentence lengths are affected by the reference period used. For the Prisoner Census, information relates to the characteristics of prisoners at a point in time (the night of 30 June), rather than the total prisoner population during the year. During a year, a large proportion of prisoners who go through the prison system are those who are serving short sentences (i.e. less than a year), while at any point in time the majority tend to be prisoners serving longer sentences. The impact of this is that when the total stock of prisoners during a year are considered, the large number of short sentences will result in lower mean and median sentence length values compared with means and medians calculated from point in time data. Due to this statistical effect, the value in using mean and median prisoner census sentence length data is for making comparisons over time, rather than placing emphasis on the absolute value at a point in time.
MOST SERIOUS OFFENCE/CHARGE
54. For sentenced prisoners, the most serious offence (MSO) is the offence for which the prisoner has received the longest sentence in the 'current episode' for a single count of the offence, regardless of the possible result of any appeals, and regardless of whether the sentence for that offence has actually expired at census date. Where sentences are equal, or the longest sentence cannot be determined, the MSO is the offence with the lowest Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) code. There are some state and territory variations:
55. For unsentenced prisoners, whether convicted or not, the most serious charge (MSC) is the charge which carries the longest statutory maximum penalty. Where penalties are equal, the MSC is the charge with the lowest ASOC code.
LEVEL OF EDUCATION
56. Level of education has been identified as an important correlate of socioeconomic advantage/disadvantage. As the current education attainment classification used to collect the highest known level of prisoner's education does not conform to the national standard, the ability to analyse this data is limited because the data is not directly comparable with the education attainment data available for the rest of the Australian population. The ABS is working with corrective services agencies to implement the following national standard questions which will enable the collection and future publication of prisoners' highest level of schooling and whether prisoners have completed any post school qualification:
DATA COMPARABILITY AND SIGNIFICANT EVENTS
57. National corrections statistics are compiled in order to maximise comparability across states and territories. Although differences have been overcome through the introduction of national standards, some legislative, interpretive and processing differences remain.
58. Prior to 2002, data were published on the number of federal prisoners by most serious offence. Investigations into the quality of federal prisoner counts in the prisoner census have revealed that a number of jurisdictions are not able to accurately identify from their systems which of their prisoners are currently serving sentences for federal offences. A further issue which limited the useability of the data was that the data provided on most serious offence was not restricted to federal offences, i.e. where a federal prisoner had two or more charges/offences and some were non-federal in nature, it was possible for the most serious offence to be a non-federal offence. Indications are that the affected jurisdictions will not be able to readily improve the quality of their federal prisoner counts. On this basis coupled with the ABS publishing monthly counts of sentenced federal prisoners, which is sourced from the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department, in Corrective Services, Australia (cat. no. 4512.0), the ABS has ceased publishing separate counts of federal prisoners in this publication.
59. For 2002 data, a change to the treatment of 'Life with minimum' sentences has impacted slightly on mean expected time to serve values. See paragraph 52 for further details.
New South Wales
60. Significant legislative changes to the periodic detention program since 1999, have led to a decrease in the number of persons entering the program and the more expedient removal of persons with poor attendance records.
61. There has been a change in the method for determining Indigenous status of persons with a recorded status of 'unknown'. This methodological change has contributed to an increase between 2001 and 2002 in the Indigenous prisoner count.
62. For 2002 and previous years, when a prisoner was held on remand and then sentenced to a term of imprisonment as part of the one episode, the time on remand was considered a separate episode of imprisonment for the purposes of determining whether a prisoner had known prior adult imprisonment. This practice was inconsistent with the counting rule and will have resulted in an inflated number (and proportion) of Victoria's prisoner population with known prior adult imprisonment. The actual extent of this overcounting is not known.
63. The notable drop in the number of prisoners between 2001 and 2002 with a most serious offence of 'offences against justice procedures' is largely due to the incorrect coding of 110 records in 2001. The most serious offence for the 110 records was coded as 'breach of parole' rather than to the original offence for which parole was granted. In 2002, all records with a most serious offence of 'breach of parole' have been recoded to the original offence.
64. New legislation removing a prisoner's eligibility for remission was enacted from 1 July 2001 (see paragraph 43 in these Explanatory Notes for further details). As a result of major differences in the interpretation of an 'episode' for the purposes of supplying data to this publication, comparisons of a prisoner's expected time to serve should not be made between 2001 and 2002.
65. During 2002, industrial action by corrective services officers resulted in limited data collection at the time of a prisoner's reception into prison. As a consequence, there has been an increase in the amount of data coded to 'unknown'.
66. During 2002, the following factors in Western Australia have impacted on the prisoner population: an increase in the acquittal and dismissal rates in courts; greater use by the courts of suspended imprisonment and community orders as penalties; and a decrease in the breach rate for early release orders. The impact of these factors has been proportionally greater on the number of Indigenous prisoners who tend to be convicted of offences which attract shorter sentences.
67. A doubling of the number of sentenced prisoners expected to serve 1-2 years, along with an increased number of short term sentenced prisoners (less than 6 months), contributed to the 24% increase in sentenced prisoners in Tasmania. Also adding to the large proportional increase in total prisoner numbers was the 20% increase in unsentenced prisoners. This increase resulted from delays experienced during the year in the Tasmanian Supreme Court associated with an increased number of lodgments and the move by police to actively oppose bail.
Australian Capital Territory
68. In 2002 all periodic detainees with a current warrant were included in the census count (i.e. including those who are in breach of order). Consequently, the periodic detainee population almost doubled between 2001 and 2002.
AUSTRALIAN STANDARD OFFENCE CLASSIFICATION
69. The offence categories for national corrective services statistics used in this publication are based on the Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC), 1997 (cat. no. 1234.0). The classification replaced the previous national offence classification, Australian National Classification of Offences (ANCO), 1985 (cat.no.1234.0), and provides a national framework for classifying offences for statistical purposes. While the ABS is publishing 2002 Prisoner Census offence data based on ASOC, the data supplied by some of the corrective services agencies was coded according to ANCO. This has required the ABS to map the offence data to the relevant ASOC category. Where there is no direct concordance between the two classifications the ANCO codes have been mapped as closely as possible to the relevant ASOC categories. The ABS will be continuing its work with the data providers to have the ASOC codes used within their systems, to ensure better quality national offence data.
70. A standard set of additional tables containing state and territory equivalents of the tables in this publication is available. Special tabulations can be produced on request to meet individual user requirements. For further information, contact the National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics by email through firstname.lastname@example.org or the contact person listed on the front cover of this publication.
71. ABS publications which may be of interest include:
72. Current publications and other products released by the ABS are listed in the Catalogue of Publications and Products, Australia (cat. no. 1101.0). The Catalogue is available from any ABS office or the ABS web site. The ABS also issues a daily Release Advice on the web site which details products to be released in the week ahead. The National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics releases a biannual newsletter that is published on the ABS web site. The Centre can be contacted by email through email@example.com.
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This page last updated 20 June 2006