4517.0 - Prisoners in Australia, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 26/03/2002   
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1 This publication presents information on all prisoners who were in custody on 30 June 2001. The statistics are derived from information collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) from administrative records held by corrective services agencies in each State and Territory. A range of information is presented on the demographic and legal characteristics of prisoners such as age, sex, legal status and the nature of the offence for which the person has been charged or convicted. The publication also provides details of the type and length of sentences being served.

2 In March 1995 the Corrective Services Ministers' Council resolved that the responsibility for the collection and dissemination of corrective services statistics should be transferred from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The AIC ceased publishing the Australian Prisoners series after June 1993. As part of the transfer of responsibilities, the ABS has undertaken the publication of all national corrective services statistics from June 1994 onwards.

3 The ABS has developed national standards for correctional statistics to ensure the comparability of data between States and Territories. There is different legislation and/or different administrative recording practices in the States and Territories, and while efforts have been made to attain maximum comparability between States and Territories, some problems with jurisdictional comparability remain. Further detail on these differences is provided in the Explanatory notes paragraphs 29-36.


4 The 2001 National Prisoner Census is a census of all persons in prison custody as at midnight 30 June 2001.


5 This collection covers all gazetted adult prisons in Australia, operated or administered by State or Territory correctional agencies, including those operated by private service providers.

Included in the collection are:

  • prisoners temporarily absent from a gazetted adult prison;
  • prisoners serving part-time custody in a gazetted adult prison, that is, periodic detainees in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory;
  • prisoners on work release from a gazetted adult prison;
  • prisoners held in gazetted police prisons; and
  • persons held in police lockups (in NSW and NT) who are the responsibility of the corrective services agency for that State/Territory.

Excluded from the collection are:
  • persons on Home Detention;
  • persons for whom custodial authority has been transferred to another agency; such as a community correctional agency or a psychiatric facility;
  • persons in a juvenile detention institution; and
  • persons in immigration custody.

6 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.

7 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:
  • In Tasmania, persons aged 18 years or younger and sentenced to a term of imprisonment may be held in a juvenile detention centre. These offenders are included in this collection.
  • Persons sentenced to imprisonment and held in Work Outreach Camps or in Community Corrections Centres in Queensland are excluded from this collection.


8 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.

9 The Australian Capital Territory has a remand centre for unsentenced prisoners and a periodic detention centre. During 2000, the Australian Capital Territory commenced detaining some sentenced fine default only prisoners at their remand centre.

10 Persons sentenced to full-time custody by Australian Capital Territory courts are 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 remand centre is exceeded. To provide a greater understanding of the number of prisoners sentenced in the Australian Capital Territory, while presenting an accurate picture of the New South Wales prisoner population, statistics relating to Australian Capital Territory prisoners in New South Wales prisons are presented as a subset of the New South Wales figures. To avoid double counting these prisoners, the 'ACT in NSW' figures presented in the tables are NOT included in the Australian totals.


11 Statistics in this publication are derived from information on each prisoner collected by corrective services agencies within each State and Territory.


12 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.

13 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 6), the use of a single denominator is unlikely to have a major impact on the figures.

14 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.

15 Rates for the general adult population are calculated using the preliminary June 2001 Estimated Resident Population figures (refer Appendix 5 and Australian Demographic Statistics, June Quarter 2001 (Cat. no. 3101.0)) which use the results of the 1996 Census of Population and Housing as a benchmark.

16 Imprisonment rates by birthplace figures presented in Table 4 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. Although the denominator data are for a reference period one year 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.

17 Rates for the Indigenous adult population in this publication are based on the projections for 30 June 2001 (refer Appendix 6 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 in turn based on the results of the 1996 Census of Population and Housing.

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 so-called 'lower series' assumes no change in propensity for people to identify themselves as Indigenous since the 1996 Population Census.


18 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:

  • No appeal current
  • Awaiting appeal
  • Unfit to plead, not guilty on grounds of insanity, preventative detention

  • Unconvicted awaiting court hearing or trial
  • Awaiting sentence
  • Awaiting deportation

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:
  • If the prisoner has been sentenced for any offence then this takes precedence over any other offence(s) for which the prisoner is unsentenced.
  • If the sentenced prisoner has appealed against all of his/her sentences then that prisoner is counted as under sentence awaiting determination of appeal. If any sentence is uncontested then this takes precedence over any offence(s) for which appeals are in progress.
  • If the prisoner is convicted but as yet unsentenced for any offence then this takes precedence over any other offence(s) for which the prisoner may be on remand.
  • A prisoner is counted as awaiting deportation if the prisoner is held in custody for this alone. If the prisoner is sentenced or held on remand for any other offences and is also awaiting deportation, then the other offences take precedence over the deportation warrant.


19 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:
  • Where an episode comprises orders/sentences of various levels of court, the level of court relating to the most serious offence (MSO) is recorded.
  • An appeal court is recorded when it has altered the length of sentence of the MSO/charge.
  • For prisoners not under sentence, the level of court which has issued the most recent remand in custody warrant is recorded.
  • Prisoners held under a Department of Immigration order or under the authority of the Parole Board are recorded as 'other'.


20 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.


21 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:
  • If an offender escapes from custody and is recaptured and returned to custody, the date of reception is the date the person originally entered into custody prior to the escape.
  • If parole is revoked resulting in an offender returning to custody, the date of reception is the date the person originally entered into custody, prior to being released on parole.

22 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.


23 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.

24 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.

25 The total of all fixed term sentences and/or maximum terms for parole sentences is referred to as the 'aggregate' sentence. The 'expected time to serve' refers to 'fixed' sentences minus any remissions allowed or the minimum term of parole sentences minus any remissions allowed.

Aggregate sentence

26 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

27 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 21-22) and the earliest date of release.

28 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 29-36.

29 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:
  • the court will first fix a minimum term that the prisoner must serve in prison; the expiry date of the minimum term will therefore be the earliest date of release;
  • the court will then fix an additional term during which the prisoner may be released on parole;
  • where no additional term is set, the minimum term is known as a fixed term of imprisonment;
  • sentences of six months or less must be fixed terms of imprisonment; and
  • those prisoners with sentences of three years or less will be released on parole as soon as they become eligible; those with sentences greater than three years may be released on parole by the Offenders Review Board any time after the minimum term of imprisonment expires.

30 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:
  • If a sentence of Life, Governor's Pleasure or a term of 24 months or more is imposed, the court must fix a period during which the offender is not eligible to be released on parole, unless it considers that the nature of the offence or the past history of the offender make the fixing of such a period inappropriate.
  • If a sentence of less than 24 months but not less than 12 months is imposed, the court may set a non-parole period.
  • The non-parole period must be at least six months less than the term of imprisonment and must be in respect of the aggregate sentence that the offender is liable to serve under all the sentences imposed.

31 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. Release dates are calculated as follows:
  • Unless otherwise specified by the court, the parole eligibility date is at half the aggregate sentence length.
  • Where the parole date has already passed and parole was denied, the date eligible for remission (two-thirds aggregate sentence) is used to calculate a release date. If this date has passed, the full-term expiry date is used to determine a release date.
  • Prisoners given a life sentence must serve 13 years in prison before being eligible for release on parole.

32 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:
  • Where a prisoner has not had a NPP set, the EDR is the aggregate sentence end date.
  • Where a prisoner has a NPP, and an aggregate sentence of less than five years, the EDR is the end date of the NPP.
  • Where a prisoner has a NPP, and an aggregate sentence of five years or more, the EDR 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 EDR becomes the aggregate sentence end date, which in the case of Life or Other indeterminate sentences would be unknown.

33 In Western Australia,
  • Where no minimum sentence is specified, the calculation is based on the total effective sentence minus one-third - known as the two-thirds time date or effective date of release (EDR) - less any special time off granted by the executive director at census date.
  • Where a parole term has been specified the calculation is based on the minimum sentence less remission of 10% of minimum sentence (i.e. the Earliest Eligibility Date (EED) as presently calculated). If this date has already passed and parole was denied, the next review date or the EDR, whichever comes first, is used.
  • In both cases above, should the parole board set a release date or review date prior to the EDR or EED and such date has not already passed, that date is used.

34 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.

35 In the Northern Territory sentence remissions for new prisoners were abolished on 1 July 1996. Expected time to serve is calculated as follows:
  • Prisoners whose sentences commenced prior to 1 July 1996 will be discharged with one third remissions or at the expiry of the non-parole period, as approved by the NT Parole Board. If the parole date has elapsed, the date eligible for remission is used (if applicable) else the full-term expiry date is used.
  • Prisoners sentenced after 1 July 1996 have an expected time to serve based on their non-parole period, a fixed release date or an earliest release date based on a suspension of sentence after a set period of time.
  • Life sentenced prisoners do not have an earliest expected release date.

36 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

37 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.

38 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.


39 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 National Classification of Offences (ANCO) code, which is then mapped to the relevant Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) code (see Appendix 2 for ANCO and ASOC categories, refer to Paragraph 41 for details of the implementation of ASOC). There are some State and Territory variations:
  • South Australia bases the MSO for prisoners who have breached parole and returned to prison on the original episode plus any new offence(s) committed while on parole.
  • In Tasmania, the MSO is the offence for which the prisoner has received the longest aggregate sentence in the 'current episode' for all counts of that offence.

40 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 ANCO code.
  • In New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, if a prisoner is convicted but as yet unsentenced for at least one charge, the MSC is selected from those offences for which convictions have been recorded.
  • In Western Australia, the MSO/MSC is selected from all offences/charges recorded during the whole of the 'current episode'.


41 For the first time in this publication, the offence categories for national corrective services statistics are based on the Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC), 1997 (Cat no. 1234.0). The classification was designed to replace the previous national offence classification, Australian National Classification of Offences (ANCO), 1985 (Cat. no. 1234.0), and to provide a national framework for classifying offences for statistical purposes. A table indicating which ASOC categories have been aggregated for this publication is provided in Appendix 2, which also shows the concordance between ASOC and ANCO. For comparative purposes aggregate national totals by offence category are provided in Appendix 3 (for ASOC) and Appendix 4 (for ANCO). While the ABS is publishing 2001 Prisoner Census offence data based on ASOC, the data supplied by 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.


42 These are offences against Commonwealth legislation. They are most commonly offences related to prohibited importations such as illegal drugs, offences involving fraud or forgery against the Commonwealth, and offences against Commonwealth property or involving injury to Commonwealth officers. Persons imprisoned for such offences are generally held in the State or Territory of the sentencing court.


43 National corrections statistics are compiled in order to maximise comparability across State and Territories. Although differences have been overcome through the introduction of national standards, some legislative, interpretive and processing differences remain.

44 With the introduction of a new computer system in Western Australia, and the need for some manual intervention during the data extraction and editing processes, there remains some concern about the quality of Western Australia corrective services data. There are possible impacts on the quality of data associated with legal status, date of reception, aggregate sentence, expected time to serve, most serious offence and time on remand.


45 To ensure that the statistics are as reliable as possible the ABS has employed a number of measures. For example, a range of edit checks identify erroneous data and these are queried and resolved by the ABS in consultation with the relevant State and Territory representative.


ABS publications

46 ABS publications which may be of interest include:

Australian Standard Offence Classification (Cat. no. 1234.0)-irregular

Corrective Services, Australia (Cat. no. 4512.0)-issued quarterly

Crime and Safety, Australia (Cat. no. 4509.0)-irregular

Higher Criminal Courts, Australia (Cat. no. 4513.0)-issued annually

Recorded Crime, Australia (Cat. no. 4510.0)-issued annually

47 Current ABS publications are listed in the Catalogue of Publications and Products (Cat. no. 1101.0) which is available on this site. The National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics releases a biannual newsletter that is published on the ABS internet site. The Centre can be contacted by email through crime.justice@abs.gov.au.