Australian Bureau of Statistics
4517.0 - Prisoners in Australia, 2003
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 22/01/2004
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11. 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.
12. In addition to the general rules of inclusion and exclusion for the scope of the National Prisoner Census, the following should be noted:
JURISDICTION OF CUSTODY
14. 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.
15. 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 continue 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).
16. Statistics in this publication are derived from information on each prisoner collected by corrective services agencies within each state and territory.
17. 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
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. 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.
21. 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 across states and territories. See also paragraphs 27-30 of these Explanatory Notes.
22. 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.
23. 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 11), the use of a single denominator is unlikely to have a major impact on the figures.
24. 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.
25. Rates for the general adult population are calculated using the preliminary June 2003 Estimated Resident Population (ERP) figures (refer supplementary table in the appendix and Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2003 (cat. no. 3101.0)). Caution should be exercised when comparing rate changes over time as ERP estimates for 2002-2003 are benchmarked on the 2001 Census of Population and Housing, ERP estimates for 1997–2001 are benchmarked on the 1996 Census of population and Housing and ERP estimates for 1992-1996 are benchmarked on the 1991 Census of Population and Housing. It is not anticipated that the different benchmarks will have a noticeable impact on imprisonable rates at the national level.
26. Imprisonment rates by birthplace figures presented in table 5 are calculated using June 2001 Estimated Resident Population by Country of Birth data (from Migration, Australia (cat. no. 3412.0)) 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
27. Rates for the Indigenous adult population in this publication are based on the projections for 30 June 2003 (refer to supplementary table in the appendix 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 benchmarked on the 1996 Census of Population and Housing.
28. Two series of these projections have been published. The lower of the two series was used in calculating the imprisonment 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 Census of Population and Housing.
29. A new set of projections of the Indigenous population, based on the 2001 Census of Population and Housing, are due for release in March 2004 in the publication Experimental Estimates and Projections of Indigenous Australians, 1991 to 2016 (cat. no. 3238.0). For the next release of Prisoner Census data (the 2004 Prisoner Census), Indigenous imprisonment rates will be calculated using the data from these updated estimates.
30. As the currently used 'low series' assumes no change in the propensity of people to identify themselves as Indigenous but the data from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing show an increased propensity, there will be implications for 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 (with other things being equal) 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.
31. 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:
34. 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:
35. 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 Children's Courts. The rules adopted for coding the level of court are:
36. An episode is defined as the period from an offender's latest date of reception into the custody of a corrective services agency for a particular offence(s)/charge(s) until the person is released from custody or remand. When a prisoner breaches parole conditions and is returned to custody a new episode is deemed to have commenced and a new reception date is provided. Differences in the application of this rule occur in Western Australia. Further detail on these differences is provided in the Explanatory Notes, paragraph 71.
37. In consultation with the National Corrections Advisory Group, the definition of episode has changed for the 2003 Prisoner Census. The definition of episode has been altered to maximise data comparability across states and territories. For New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory, there has been no change to the data provided for the Prisoner Census collection. That is, these jurisdictions have always provided data based on the definition of episode as outlined in the previous paragraph. These jurisdictions accounted for 65% of the prisoner population in 2002. For Queensland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, the definition of episode has changed from data provided prior to 2003 when the definition of episode treated persons who breached parole and returned to custody as continuing a prior episode (the date of reception was the date the person originally entered into custody prior to the breach of parole). In Western Australia, as noted in the previous paragraph, there remain differences in the application of the national counting rule (further detail on these differences is provided in the Explanatory Notes, paragraph 71). As the revised definition of episode only impacts on prisoners who have breached parole, the impact of this change in definition on time series data will be low at the national level.
DATE OF RECEPTION
38. This is defined as the date the prisoner was received into prison in a state or territory for the current episode. Counting rules for persons returning to custody from an escape attempt or parole are as follows:
40. 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.
41. 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.
42. 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. 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
43. 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 36-37) and the earliest date of release.
44. 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 45-60.
New South Wales
45. In New South Wales significant legislative amendments came into force on 3 April 2000, repealing a number of Acts of Parliament which were administered by the Department of Corrective Services, namely:
46. These Acts were replaced by the following:
47. The consolidation of the sentencing legislation into two Acts was achieved with only minor changes of substance to existing law. One effect of the legislative amendments was the removal of the terms 'minimum', 'additional' and 'fixed' used in describing sentence types. Under current legislation a court, in setting a term of imprisonment, is required to first set a 'Non-Parole' period and then a 'Sentence' period. Alternatively a court may decline to set a 'Non-Parole' period. These sentences are referred to as 'Sentence/Non-Parole' and 'Sentence/Parole declined' sentence types respectively.
48. Amendments to the Periodic Detention of Prisoners Act 1981 (Periodic Detention of Prisoners Amendment Act 1998 (No. 43)) enabled courts to set 'minimum' and 'additional' terms when imposing a sentence to be served by way of periodic detention. These changes were incorporated in the new legislation (Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999) with respective changes to the sentence type terminology, as explained above. Periodic detention sentences are described as either 'Periodic (Sentence/Non-Parole)' or 'Periodic (Sentence/Parole declined)'.
49. A new fine enforcement system for NSW was introduced from 27 January 1998 under the Fines Act 1996 and is based on a hierarchy of civil and non-custodial sanctions with imprisonment as a sanction of last resort. Inmates with a sentence type of 'Fine default' are held only for reason of commonwealth fine default (i.e. there are no outstanding charges or current sentences).
50. Those prisoners with a sentence of three years or less, being a sentence that has a non-parole period, are automatically released from custody at the expiry of the non-parole term. Those with a non-parole term greater than three years may be released by the NSW Parole Board at any time after serving the non-parole term.
51. In Victoria, the calculation of expected time to serve is based on either the non-parole period set by court or the aggregate sentence. Time spent in detention prior to the commencement of the sentence counts toward the time expected to be served under sentence. Under the provisions of the Sentencing Act 1991 (as amended), the sentencing rules in Victoria are as follows:
52. Expected time to serve is not calculated for prisoners sentenced to an Indefinite term or to Life where no minimum term has been fixed.
53. 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.
54. Release dates are calculated as follows:
55. In South Australia, the Truth in Sentencing legislation implemented on 1 August 1994 changed the way in which release dates are calculated in comparison to previous years. The major changes to the sentencing legislation affected by the Truth in Sentencing were the abolition of remissions, the requirement for prisoners with an aggregate sentence of five years or more to formally apply to the Parole Board for release on parole, the ability of the Parole Board to release prisoners with an aggregate sentence of five years or more at its discretion and directions for the judiciary to take the abolition of remissions into account when ordering sentences. Prisoners with a non-parole period (NPP) and an aggregate sentence of less than five years continue to be paroled automatically. Release dates for prisoners are now calculated as follows:
56. 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.
57. In Western Australia,
58. 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.
59. In the Northern Territory sentence remissions for new prisoners were abolished on 1 July 1996. Expected time to serve is calculated as follows:
60. 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
61. 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.
62. 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.
63. Changes to the treatment of prisoners who have a 'Life with minimum' sentence have occurred from 2002. 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 these calculations. Their inclusion has slightly increased the mean for the expected time to serve, but has had no impact on the median value for expected time to serve.
64. 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 is 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
65. 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:
66. 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
67. 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 prisoners' education does not conform to the national standard, the ability to analyse these data is limited because the data are 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:
68. Experimental data on prisoner education level have been provided in the Appendix.
DATA COMPARABILITY AND SIGNIFICANT EVENTS
69. 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.
70. 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 national counting rule for the Prisoner Census and will have resulted in an inflated number (and proportion) of Victoria's prisoner population with known prior adult imprisonment. For 2003 the national counting rule was adopted for recording known prior adult imprisonment in Victoria.
71. Where prisoners were returned to prison partly or wholly as a result of breach or suspension of early release orders, a new episode is not deemed to have commenced and the date of reception is based on the date the person originally entered into custody, prior to being released on the early release order. Therefore, time spent in prison for the original sentence has continued to be included in the calculation of expected time to serve and aggregate sentence length data and will result in a higher mean and median duration for these data items in comparison with other states and territories. In light of legislative changes effective from 31 August 2003, it is essential for Western Australia to have a continuous series of comparable information to enable the monitoring and evaluation of the impact of the new legislation.
72. The increase in Indigenous imprisonment rates in 2003 was due mainly to a 6.1% increase in the number of sentenced imprisonments commenced by Indigenous persons. This increase was accentuated by corresponding reductions in sentenced imprisonments commenced by non-Indigenous persons (9.8%). The main areas of increase in relation to most serious offence were Justice/good order offences (37.7%), Offences against the person (6.6%) and Unlawful entry with intent (5.3%). Remand only receptions (where prisoners were unsentenced at the 30 June 2003) increased 9.6% for Indigenous persons and decreased 15.1% for non-Indigenous persons. Offences against the person (28.9%) and Unlawful entry with intent (6.1%) showed the largest increases.
Australian Capital Territory
73. 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 increased from 2002.
AUSTRALIAN STANDARD OFFENCE CLASSIFICATION
74. 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 2003 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.
75. A standard set of additional tables containing state and territory equivalents of the tables in this publication are 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 <email@example.com> or the contact person listed on the front cover of this publication.
76. ABS publications which may be of interest include:
77. Current publications and other products released by the ABS are listed in the Catalogue of Publications and Products (cat. no. 1101.0). The Catalogue is available from any ABS office or the ABS web site <http://www.abs.gov.au>. 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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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This page last updated 20 June 2006