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The National Prisoner Census, conducted annually on the night of 30 June, counts all offenders who are in the legal custody of adult corrective services, including periodic detainees in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. At any given point in time, most prisoners are serving long sentences for relatively serious offences, but the flow of offenders in and out of prisons consists primarily of persons serving short sentences for less serious offences.
Some of the factors that have influenced the size of the prison population over this period include: legislative changes affecting the length of time prisoners spend in prison; the abolition of sentence-reducing mechanisms such as remission; significant court delays leading to an increase in unsentenced prisoners in some jurisdictions (the proportion of prisoners who were unsentenced increased from 12% in 1992 to 20% in 2002); an increase in Australia's population; and an increase in the amount of recorded crime. Graph 11.29 shows a time series of the rate of adult prisoners per 100,000 adult population. Nationally, the imprisonment rate was 148 per 100,000 adult population at 30 June 2002. The imprisonment rates vary noticeably between jurisdictions, with the Northern Territory recording the highest imprisonment rate of 466 per 100,000 adult population in 2002 (graph 11.30), substantially greater than the next highest rate of 190 prisoners per 100,000 adult population in Western Australia, and well above the national rate.