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National Prisoner Census
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Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)


The collection presents information about persons held in custody in Australian prisons at 30 June each year. It 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. Statistics are derived from information collected by the ABS from administrative records held by corrective service agencies in each state and territory. A range of information is presented on the demographic and legal characteristics of prisoners such as age, sex, country of birth, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status, legal status, prior imprisonment, most serious offence/charge, aggregate sentence and expected time to serve, as well as time on remand.


To provide a national view of prisoners in Australia in the legal custody of adult prisons, as well as comparable data across states and territories, and to provide a basis for measuring change over time.


All persons remanded or sentenced to adult custodial corrective services agencies in each state and territory in Australia. In all States and Territories, except 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 only remanded or sentenced to custody in adult prisons in exceptional circumstances. In Queensland 'adult' refers to persons aged 17 years and over.

Included in the National Prisoner Census are prisoners in the legal custody of corrective services but who, at the time of the census, were:

  • absent on an authorised temporary leave permit
  • absent from the correctional facility on a work release permit or program
  • located in secure wards in a hospital outside the correctional facility
  • periodic detainees.

Excluded from the collection are:
  • prisoners who were unlawfully absent from corrective services legal custody, e.g. escapees or prisoners who failed to return from an authorised temporary absence from a correctional facility
  • prisoners whose legal custody had been transferred to another agency, e.g. police or mental health institutions.

The count of periodic detainees covers the number of persons with an active periodic detainee warrant. However, periodic detainees who have breached orders may be excluded.

The types of correctional facilities and programs where prisoners are held varies between the states and territories.

Included in the collection are:

  • gazetted adult prisons in all jurisdictions
  • periodic detention centres in the Australian Capital Territory
  • community custody centres in Queensland and work camps in Queensland and Western Australia
  • cells in court complexes administered by corrective services in New South Wales
  • transitional centres in New South Wales
  • lock-ups in Western Australia operated by the police but designated as a prison by the Chief Executive Officer of Corrective Services
  • gazetted police prisons in the Northern Territory which are administered and controlled by the Director of Corrective Services.

Excluded from the collection are persons held in facilities administered and controlled by other agencies:
  • police lock-ups, police prisons and cells in court complexes
  • immigration detention centres
  • home detention programs
  • military prisons
  • mental health facilities
  • juvenile facilities, including those under the authority of adult corrective services.


Conceptual framework

The concepts in this collection are based on the ABS National Criminal Justice Statistical Framework, 2007 (cat. no. 4525.0).

The framework discusses the criminal justice system, including its policy and social context, and the complexities of measurement within it. It provides a model of the flows through the criminal justice system and the various connections between and across primary sectors.

The criminal justice system can be represented as a complex series of stages, each comprising one or more particular processes that together make up the system as a whole. The way in which this system operates is both sequential and consequential. The sequential element refers to the fact that events occurring within the system generally take place in a particular chronological order. At its most general level, the criminal justice system comprises four main stages:
1. An event occurs resulting in a possible criminal incident.
2. The criminal justice system becomes aware of the incident (through a call for service or through its own investigation) and further investigates to determine whether a crime occurred and to apprehend an alleged offender.
3. The criminal justice system determines if criminal responsibility exists and applies some form of penalty or obligation as a result of a finding of liability or guilt.
4. The criminal justice system manages the penalty, obligation or rehabilitation.

The consequential element of the system refers to the fact that decisions or activities taking place in early stages of the sequence have important effects on subsequent stages. For example, police activities will affect the number of charges brought before the courts. Similarly, subsequent sentencing decisions made by magistrates and judges will influence situations within corrective service organisations (e.g. the availability of prison accommodation).

The prisoner census collection is based on the 4th main stage of the criminal justice system - managing the penalty, obligation or rehabilitation of offenders. The main population groups are persons under adult corrective services either as sentenced or unsentenced prisoners. The collection does not include people sentenced under adult or juvenile community based corrective services or juvenile detention.

Further information on the conceptual framework for the Crime and Justice sector can be found in the ABS publication: Information paper: National Criminal Justice Statistical Framework , 2007(cat. no 4525.0)

Main outputs

The publication presents national statistics based on the demographics, legal status and sentence characteristics of prisoners in Australia on Census night - 30 June. Outputs include:

  • demographic data (age, sex, Indigenous status) by most serious offence/charge
  • legal status and prior adult imprisonment by most serious offence/charge
  • imprisonment rates by state and territories, and Indigenous status
  • country of birth by selected most serious offence/charge
  • historical data for states and territories by demographic and legal characteristics
  • Indigenous status by sentence length and most serious offence
  • sentenced prisoners by court level, sentence length, and expected time to serve
  • unsentenced prisoners by court level, time on remand and most serious charge
  • periodic detainees by age, sex and most serious offence


The main classification used in the publication is the classification of offences. The Australian National Classification of Offences (ANCO), 1985 (cat. no. 1234.0) was used from 1993 to 2000 inclusive. From 2001 onwards the ANCO was replaced by the Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC), 1997 (cat. no. 1234.0). The ASOC was revised in 2008, and in 2009 the new version of the ASOC was introduced with six jurisdictions coding offence data in accordance with the revised classification. In June 2011, the ASOC was renamed as the Australian and New Zealand Offence Classification, 2011 (ANZSOC) (cat. no. 1234.0). No changes were made to the content of the classification.

The National Offence Index (NOI) ranks ANZSOC groups and supplementary codes on the basis of their seriousness. The 2002 NOI was introduced into the prisoner census collection in 2006 and is used to determine the most serious charge for unsentenced prisoners for all states and territories excluding Western Australia, as well as most serious offence for sentenced prisoners in Tasmania. The NOI was revised in 2009 and introduced from the 2009 prisoner census collection.

An additional classification is used for country of birth data: Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC), Second Edition (cat. no. 1269.0). For further details, see Collection History below.

Other concepts (summary)

Periodic detainees are sentenced prisoners who are required to be held in custody for two consecutive days in a one-week period.

Definitions and counting rules for data items specific to the Prisoner Census - such as episode, legal status, aggregate sentence, and expected time to serve - have been devised in conjunction with the National Corrective Services Statistics Advisory Group.


New South Wales
South Australia
Western Australia
Northern Territory
Australian Capital Territory

Comments and/or Other Regions

The Cocos and Keeling Islands are not included in the Australian totals



Frequency comments


The collection was established in 1983 by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC). The AIC maintained the collection until June 1993. In September 1995 the ABS took over responsibility for the collection and has undertaken the publication of all national corrective services statistics from June 1994 onwards. The first official ABS release of Prisoner Census statistics was through the 2000 publication, Prisoners in Australia. Prior to this, the data were presented as an annual report for the Corrective Services Ministers' Council by the National Corrective Services Statistics Unit. From 2000 onwards, the following history is relevant:

  • 2001 - The Australian Standard Offence Classification 1997 replaced the Australian National Classification of Offences, resulting in a break in series for some offence types. Imprisonment rates by birthplace were also introduced;
  • 2002 - The calculation of imprisonment rates for NSW and the ACT was changed;
  • 2003 - Scope changes were made to include prisoners held in community custody centres and work outreach camps in Queensland. The definition of an episode changed in consultation with the National Corrections Advisory Group. Tasmania introduced the National Offence Index (NOI) to determine most serious offence/charge;
  • 2004 - Historical rates for total prisoners, and Indigenous prisoners, were revised using population estimates benchmarked on the 2001 Census of Population and Housing and back cast for the period 1994 to 2003. Prior to 2004 rates for all states and territories were calculated using adult population for persons aged 17 and over. For 2004 and 2005 adult population figures used in the calculation of rates changed to persons aged 18 years and over for all states and territories except for Victoria and Queensland, where the adult population used was that of persons aged 17 years and over. The rules for determining the most serious offence for prisoners returning to prison with a breach of parole were also modified;
  • 2006 - The NOI was introduced to determine most serious charge in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory. Tasmania continued to use the NOI for most serious offence/charge. From 2006 the definition of an adult changed to 18 years and over for Victoria;
  • 2007 - The Northern Territory introduced the NOI to determine most serious charge;
  • 2008 - New South Wales introduced the NOI to determine most serious charge;
  • 2009 - The Australian Standard Offence Classification 2008 (ASOC08) replaced the Australian Standard Offence Classification 1997 (ASOC97); and the revised National Offence Index 2009 replaced the 2002 National Offence Index. All states and territories, except Queensland and Western Australia implemented the ASOC08 for the 2009 collection. Queensland and Western Australia continued to use the ASOC97. Historical rates by Indigenous status were updated based on Indigenous population projections data benchmarked on 2006 Census of Population and Housing data.
  • 2010 - Queensland and Western Australia implemented ASOC08. National offence data all presented on an ASOC08 basis.
  • 2011 - Offence data are based on the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC) (cat. no. 1234.0). The Australian Standard Offence Classification 2008 (ASOC08) was renamed ANZSOC in July 2011. ANZSOC contains the same offence details and classification as ASOC08 and therefore there were no impacts on offence data in the publication.
  • 2012 - Most jurisdictions used the Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC), Second Edition (cat. no. 1269.0), however South Australia, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory updated their coding to the Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC) 2011 (cat. no. 1269.0). There was no impact on comparability between the jurisdictions that have updated to the most recent edition and those that are using the second edition released in 2008.



Data availability comments

The Prisoner Census is taken on 30 June each year, with the publication usually released in December of that year. The main publication is Prisoners in Australia, with a set of companion tables released in Excel spreadsheets on the same day. These data cubes contain data further disaggregated by state and territory and further cross classified. The data cubes also include some additional data items such as security classification, prison location and level of court. All published data are available free of charge on the ABS website.

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