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4517.0 - Prisoners in Australia, 2008  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 11/12/2008   
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SUMMARY OF FINDINGS


INTRODUCTION

This publication presents information from the National Prisoner Census about persons held in Australian prisons on the night of 30 June 2008. The National Prisoner Census covers all prisoners in the legal custody of adult corrective services in adult prisons, including periodic detainees in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, but excluding persons held in juvenile institutions, psychiatric custody and police custody. It is based on data extracted from administrative records held by the corrective services agencies in each Australian state and territory. These statistics provide a profile of the legal status and sentence details as well as demographic characteristics of Australian adult prisoners.

Users of this publication should note that it provides a picture of the persons in prison at a point in time (30 June 2008), and does not represent the flow of prisoners during the year. The majority of prisoners in the annual Prisoner Census were serving long-term sentences for serious offences, whereas the flow of offenders in and out of prisons consists primarily of persons serving short sentences for lesser offences. Complementary information to this publication about Australian prisoners is available in the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) quarterly publication, Corrective Services, Australia (cat. no. 4512.0).

The Explanatory Notes provide detailed information on the data sources, definitions, counting rules and other technical matters associated with this publication.

For ease of reading, 'most serious offence/charge' may be referred to as 'offence/charge' throughout this publication. The term 'related offences' has also been omitted for ease of reading for the following offences/charges: homicide and related offences; sexual assault and related offences; robbery, extortion and related offences; theft and related offences; and deception and related offences.


PRISONER SNAPSHOT

At 30 June 2008 there were 27,615 prisoners (sentenced and unsentenced) in Australian prisons, an increase of 1% (391 prisoners) since 30 June 2007. This represented an imprisonment rate of 169 prisoners per 100,000 adult population. The median aggregate sentence length for all prisoners was three years.

Unsentenced prisoners comprised 23% (6,340) of the total prisoner population, an increase of 4% (244 prisoners) from 30 June 2007. Over half (55%) of all prisoners had served a sentence in an adult prison prior to the current episode. The most serious offence/charge category of acts intended to cause injury accounted for the highest proportion (18% or 5,008) of all prisoners.

Of the total prisoner population, 7% (1,957) were female and 24% (6,706) were Indigenous. Almost 80% (22,076) of all prisoners were born in Australia. The median age was 33 years, unchanged from 2007. Over 73% (20,227) of the total prisoner population was located in New South Wales (10,510), Queensland (5,544) and Victoria (4,223).


CHANGES IN THE PRISONER POPULATION

The total prisoner population increased by 1%, (from 27,224 on 30 June 2007 to 27,615 on 30 June 2008), less than the 6% (1,434) increase recorded between 2006 and 2007. Between the 2007 and 2008 Prisoner Census dates:

  • the number of male prisoners increased by 2% (418) whilst the number of female prisoners decreased by 1% (27);
  • the number of Indigenous prisoners increased by 1% (76);
  • sentenced prisoners increased by 1% (147) and the number of unsentenced prisoners increased by 4% (244).
Change in prisoner numbers, between 30 June 2007 and 30 June 2008
Graph: Change in prisoner numbers 2007-2008


Between 2007 and 2008, the prisoner population increased in five of the states and territories: New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Northern Territory and in the Australian Capital Territory. The highest proportional increases in prisoner numbers were for South Australia (10%), the Australian Capital Territory (6%), and the Northern Territory (5%). Tasmania, Western Australia and Queensland recorded decreases in prisoner populations (each 3% or less).

CHANGE IN PRISONER NUMBERS, between 30 June 2007 and 30 June 2008, states and territories
Graph: Change in prisoner numbers by state and territory



IMPRISONMENT RATES

At 30 June 2008, the Australian imprisonment rate was 169 prisoners per 100,000 adult population, unchanged from 2007.

IMPRISONMENT RATES(a)
Graph: Imprisonment rates over the last ten years


Imprisonment rates increased in three states and territories between 30 June 2007 and 30 June 2008: South Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. South Australia recorded the largest imprisonment rate increase at 8%, while the largest decrease (5%) was recorded in Western Australia. Both Tasmania and Queensland recorded decreases of 3%. As at 30 June 2008, the Northern Territory continued to have the highest imprisonment rate at 610 prisoners per 100,000 adult population, a rise of 15 prisoners per 100,000 adults from 2007.

All states and territories except Queensland recorded increased imprisonment rates in the 10 year period from 1998. Tasmania recorded the largest percentage change in the imprisonment rate, rising 51% (from 90 prisoners per 100,000 adult population in 1998 to 136 prisoners per 100,000 adult population in 2008). This was followed by Western Australia increasing by 32% (from 175 to 230 prisoners per 100,000 adults) and Victoria increasing by 29% (from 80 to 104 prisoners per 100,000 adults). Queensland decreased by 2% (from 172 to 169 prisoners per 100,000 adults).

change in imprisonment rates(a), between 30 June 1998 and 30 June 2008, states and territories
Graph: Change in imprisonment rates over the last ten years



INDIGENOUS PRISONERS

Caution should be exercised when interpreting movements in Indigenous prisoner numbers as increases may have been impacted by changes to the collection and recording of Indigenous information, or the willingness of Indigenous persons to self identify.

Indigenous prisoners represented 24% of the total prisoner population at 30 June 2008, unchanged from 30 June 2007.

The proportion of prisoners who were Indigenous varied across states and territories. The Indigenous prisoner population in the Northern Territory comprised 83% of the total prisoner population for that territory, while Victoria had the lowest proportion of Indigenous prisoners (6%).

When comparing rates of imprisonment for Indigenous and non-Indigenous prisoners, it is preferable to use age standardised rates. (For further information see Explanatory Notes, paragraphs 30-35). The age standardised imprisonment rate for Indigenous prisoners was 1,769 per 100,000 adult Indigenous population, indicating that Indigenous persons were 13 times more likely than non-Indigenous persons to be in prison at 30 June 2008, unchanged from 2007.

Indigenous persons were 20 times more likely to be in prison than non-Indigenous persons in Western Australia; the highest ratio of Indigenous to non-Indigenous age standardised rates of imprisonment in Australia.

RATIO OF INDIGENOUS TO NON-INDIGENOUS AGE STANDARDISED RATES OF IMPRISONMENT(a)
Graph: Ratio of indigenous to non-Indigenous age standardised rates



COUNTRY OF BIRTH

At 30 June 2008, Australia was the country of birth recorded by 80% (22,076) of all prisoners (sentenced and unsentenced). This was followed by New Zealand (3% or 757 prisoners), Vietnam (2% or 684) and the United Kingdom and Ireland (2% or 636).


MOST SERIOUS OFFENCE/CHARGE

An offence/charge is determined for each prisoner (see Explanatory Notes, paragraphs 71-74). At 30 June 2008, the most prevalent offences/charges for prisoners (either sentenced or unsentenced) were: acts intended to cause injury (18%); sexual assault (12%); unlawful entry with intent (11%); illicit drug offences; homicide; and robbery and extortion (all 10%). The largest proportional increases in the prisoner population were recorded for sexual assault (10% increase) and illicit drug offences (6% increase).


SEX

Males comprised 93% (25,658) of the total prisoner population at 30 June 2008, whilst females comprised 7% (1,957). The number of male prisoners increased by 2% (418) and female prisoners decreased by 1% (27) from 30 June 2007.

Between June 1998 and June 2008, the number of prisoners increased by 39%, from 19,906 to 27,615. Over the same period, the number of male prisoners increased by 37% (from 18,771 to 25,658) and the number of female prisoners increased by 72% (from 1,135 to 1,957).

CHANGE IN PRISONER NUMBERS, between 30 June 1998 and 30 June 2008, by sex
Graph: Change in prisoner numbers 1998-2008 by sex


At 30 June 2008, the Australian imprisonment rate for females was 24 prisoners per 100,000 adult female population, an increase from 16 prisoners per 100,000 adult females in 1998. Between 1998 and 2008 the female imprisonment rate increased in all states and territories. In the Northern Territory, the female imprisonment rate increased from 48 to 62 prisoners per 100,000 adult females while in Western Australia, the rate increased from 23 to 34 prisoners per 100,000 adult females. From a low base in 1998, Tasmania recorded the highest proportional increase in the female imprisonment rate, an increase of 218%. The imprisonment rate increased from 7 to 23 per 100,000 Tasmanian adult female population.

Female imprisonment rates, 30 June 1998 and 30 June 2008, states and territories
Graph: Female imprisonment rates last 10 years by state and territory


The imprisonment rate for males increased by 19% from 1998, representing a rate of 318 prisoners per 100,000 adult males. This compared to 267 prisoners per 100,000 adult males in 1998. Over the period from June 1998, Tasmania recorded the highest proportional change in male imprisonment rates, an increase of 47% (from 174 to 255 prisoners per 100,000 adult males). Male imprisonment rates increased by 34% in Western Australia (from 318 to 425 per 100,000 adult males) and 31% in the Northern Territory (from 849 to 1,111 per 100,000 adult males). Queensland recorded a proportional decrease in male imprisonment rates of 4% (from 328 to 315 per 100,000 adult males).

Male imprisonment rates, 30 June 1998 and 30 June 2008, states and territories
Graph: Male imprisonment rates last 10 years by state and territory



AGE

The median age of all prisoners in Australian prisons at 30 June 2008 was 33 years, with males recording a median age of 33 years and females 34 years. In contrast, the median age of male and female Indigenous prisoners was 30 years.

Approximately 68% of all prisoners were aged between 20 and 39 years. The highest proportion of non-Indigenous prisoners was in the 25-29 age group (18%), which was also the age group with the highest proportion of Indigenous prisoners (22%).


Most serious offence/charge

Prisoners in the 25-34 year age group accounted for the highest proportion of prisoners for the following offence/charge categories:
  • robbery and extortion and unlawful entry with intent - both 44%;
  • acts intended to cause injury - 40%;
  • illicit drugs - 33%.

Prisoners aged 35-44 years accounted for the highest proportion of prisoners for homicide and sexual assault (32% and 28% respectively).

PROPORTION OF PRISONERS, selected most serious offence/charge, by age group
Graph: Proportion of prisoners by most serious offence by age group


Comparing different age groups (see chart below):
  • prisoners 55 and over were more likely to be imprisoned for sexual assault than for other selected most serious offence/charge types (51%);
  • of the 45-54 age group, the highest proportion (22%) were in prison for the most serious offence/charge of sexual assault;
  • the highest proportion of prisoners for each of the remaining age groups were for acts intended to cause injury. Those aged under 25 years of age accounted for a quarter (25%) of prisoners for this offence type.
PROPORTION OF PRISONERS, age groups by selected most serious offence/charge
Graph: Proportion of prisoners by selected age group by most serious offence



PRIOR IMPRISONMENT

The majority (55%) of prisoners in custody at 30 June 2008 had served a sentence in an adult prison prior to the current episode.

PRIOR IMPRISONMENT(a), selected most serious offence/charge
Graph: Prior imprisonment by selected most serious offence


Almost 75% of prisoners with the offence/charge of unlawful entry with intent and 62% of prisoners with the offence/charge of acts intended to cause injury had a prior imprisonment recorded. Conversely, 65% of prisoners with a sexual assault or an illicit drug offence/charge had no prior imprisonment recorded.


SENTENCED PRISONERS

There were 21,275 sentenced prisoners in Australian prisons at 30 June 2008, an increase of less than 1% (147 sentenced prisoners) from 30 June 2007 (21,128).


Most serious offence

Six offences accounted for 71% of all sentenced prisoners: acts intended to cause injury (16%); sexual assault (14%); unlawful entry with intent (11%); and homicide, illicit drug, and offences against justice procedures (all 10%).

Over the period from June 1998, the proportion of sentenced prisoners with an offence of acts intended to cause injury increased from 12% to 16%. The proportion of prisoners with an offence of robbery and extortion decreased over the same period from 13% in 1998 to 9% in 2008.

The Northern Territory had the largest proportion of sentenced prisoners for the offence of acts intended to cause injury (36%), followed by Queensland and Western Australia (both 18%). Queensland had the highest proportion of sentenced prisoners (18%) with an offence of sexual assault, followed by Victoria (17%). New South Wales had the highest proportion of sentenced prisoners with an offence of illicit drugs (11%).

Proportion of sentenced prisoners, selected most serious offence, states and territories
Graph: Proportion of prisoners by selected most serious offence by state and territory



Prisoners sentenced in the last 12 months

Over half (51% or 10,896) of all sentenced prisoners were sentenced in the 12 months preceding 30 June 2008. The majority (57%) of these prisoners had served a sentence in an adult prison prior to the current episode being served.


Sex

The number of sentenced males in prison increased by 3,682 (23%) in the period from 1998. The largest increase was in the number of sentenced prisoners with an offence of acts intended to cause injury, increasing by 1,177 (60%). This was followed by increases in the number of male prisoners with an offence of sexual assault (592 or 26%) and homicide (590 or 40%).

sentenced males in prison, selected most serious offence
Graph: Sentenced males in prison by selected most serious offence


From 30 June 1998 to 30 June 2008 the number of sentenced females in prison had increased from 939 to 1,409 (50%). Increases in the number of sentenced females in prison were recorded for the following offences: acts intended to cause injury (113 or 120%); illicit drugs (96 or 87%); and homicide (64 or 68%).

sentenced females in prison, selected most serious offence
Graph: Sentenced females in prison by selected most serious offence



Indigenous and non-Indigenous prisoners

Over 42% (2,204) of all Indigenous prisoners were sentenced for acts intended to cause injury or unlawful entry with intent. In contrast, these same offences together accounted for 22% of all non-Indigenous sentenced prisoners. Sexual assault accounted for the highest proportion of non-Indigenous prisoners (14% or 2,298), followed by illicit drug offences (12% or 1,996).


Aggregate sentence length

Of all sentenced prisoners, 5% (1,037) were serving a life term or another indeterminate sentence. Of the remaining sentenced prisoners, 24% had an aggregate sentence length imposed in the range from 2 years to less than 5 years, while 21% had an aggregate sentence length of between 5 years and under 10 years. Approximately 34% (7,218) had an aggregate sentence length of less than 2 years. Periodic detention accounted for 4% of all sentenced prisoners.

Excluding prisoners with indeterminate, life with a minimum and periodic detention sentences, the median aggregate sentence length for sentenced prisoners was unchanged from 2007 at 3 years (36 months). For information about interpreting mean and median sentence lengths based on a census 'snapshot' see Explanatory Notes, paragraphs 68-70.

The longest median aggregate sentence lengths at 30 June 2008 were for homicide (14 years or 168 months), sexual assault (6.7 years or 80 months) and abduction (6 years or 72 months).

Between 30 June 2007 and 30 June 2008, the largest increase in median aggregate sentence lengths were for the most serious offence categories of public order offences (an increase from 15 months to 39 months) and miscellaneous offences (an increase from 36 months to 54 months).

Excluding prisoners with indeterminate, life with a minimum and periodic detention sentences, the median aggregate sentence length for Indigenous prisoners was 2 years, while for non-Indigenous prisoners it was 3.5 years. This represented no change from 30 June 2007.


Expected time to serve

Expected time to serve takes into account the earliest date of release for sentenced prisoners. The median expected time to serve for sentenced prisoners at 30 June 2008 was 1.8 years (22.1 months), a decrease of less than a month from 2007. Excluding prisoners with indeterminate, life without a minimum, and periodic detention sentences, over 21% of prisoners (4,452) had an expected time to serve greater than 5 years, while 23% of prisoners had an expected time to serve between 2 and under 5 years.

The median expected time to serve was highest for the offence category of homicide (11 years or 132.1 months), followed by sexual assault (4.5 years or 54 months), abduction (4 years or 48 months) and robbery (3.5 years or 42 months).

SENTENCED PRISONERS, median sentence length and selected most serious offence(a)
Graph: Sentenced prisoners by sentence length and most serious offence



UNSENTENCED PRISONERS

Unsentenced (those on remand) prisoners include unconvicted prisoners awaiting a court hearing or trial, convicted prisoners awaiting sentencing and persons awaiting deportation where they are under the administration of corrective services. There was a total of 6,340 unsentenced prisoners, an increase of 4% from 30 June 2007 (6,096). Unsentenced prisoners accounted for 23% of the total prisoner population in Australian prisons at 30 June 2008, an increase from the 22% as at 30 June 2007.

All states and territories reported an increase in the proportion of remandees except for Tasmania (a decrease of 15%), Queensland (a decrease of 5%), and Victoria (a decrease of less than 1%). Of all states and territories, the Australian Capital Territory had the highest proportion (49%) of unsentenced prisoners, while Victoria had the lowest proportion (19%).


Most serious charge

Of all unsentenced prisoners, 26% had a most serious charge of acts intended to cause injury, followed by illicit drug offences (13%), unlawful entry with intent (12%), and robbery and extortion (11%).


Time on remand

Time on remand is influenced by a number of factors, particularly the time it takes for a case to come before a court. The median number of months spent on remand by unsentenced prisoners in custody at 30 June 2008 was 2.7 months, the same as at 30 June 2007. For information about interpreting median time on remand based on a census 'snapshot' see Explanatory Notes, paragraphs 68-70. The longest amount of time spent on remand was by prisoners charged with homicide (median of 8.9 months), followed by abduction (median of 6.1 months). This compares to a median of 9 months and 4.7 months respectively for these same offence types at 30 June 2007.


PERIODIC DETAINEES

The sentencing option of periodic detention, where detainees are in custody for two consecutive days in a week and remain at liberty the rest of the week, is available only in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. There were 754 periodic detainees at 30 June 2008, a decrease of 9% from 30 June 2007 (76 periodic detainees). Nearly half (49% or 370) of periodic detainees were sentenced for road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences (214) and acts intended to cause injury (156).


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