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While the highest Indigenous imprisonment rate of approximately 2,400 prisoners per 100,000 adult Indigenous population was recorded in Western Australia, this was well below the 3,000 prisoners per 100,000 adult Indigenous population recorded a year earlier in that state. During 2002, the following factors in Western Australia impacted on the prisoner population: an increase in the acquittal and dismissal rates in courts; greater use by the courts of suspended imprisonment and community orders as penalties; and a decrease in the breach rate for early release orders. The impact of these factors was proportionally greater on the number of Indigenous prisoners who tend to be convicted of offences that attract shorter sentences.
The 20% decrease in Western Australia, along with a 1% decrease in the Northern Territory, offset increases in all other states, resulting in a slight overall (1%) decrease in the national Indigenous imprisonment rate (graph 11.32).
In 1992, 14% of all male prisoners were Indigenous and 18% of all female prisoners were Indigenous. By 2002 this proportion had risen to 20% for Indigenous males and 25% for Indigenous females (graph 11.33), even though Indigenous persons were estimated to comprise just over 2% of the total Australian population in 2002.
Over the 10 years to 2002, the increase in the proportion of prisoners who are Indigenous was mainly influenced by increases in New South Wales (from 9% in 1992 to 17% in 2002) and Queensland (from 18% in 1992 to 25% in 2002).
Age and sex
The age profile for Indigenous prisoners is younger than that for the overall prisoner population, with the median age for Indigenous prisoners of 29 years being 2 years lower than the 31 years for all prisoners (graph 11.34). Indigenous male prisoners outnumber Indigenous female prisoners by about 11 to 1 (4,127 compared with 367). Nearly 6% of all Indigenous males aged 25-29 years were in prison at 30 June 2002, compared with 0.6% of all males aged 25-29 years. Nearly 0.6% of all Indigenous females aged 25-29 years were in prison at 30 June 2002, compared with 0.05% of all females aged 25-29 years (table 11.35).
Most serious offence
The most serious offence is defined as the offence for which prisoners have received the longest sentence. Of the 3,617 Indigenous sentenced prisoners, 24% had a most serious offence of assault, twice the proportion for the overall sentenced prisoner population. In contrast, of 1,840 prisoners sentenced with a most serious offence relating to illicit drug offences, only 2% were Indigenous (graph 11.36).
Indigenous prisoners are more likely to be serving shorter sentences than the overall prison population, with 38% of Indigenous prisoners expected to serve less than one year, compared with 29% of all prisoners. The mean expected time to serve for Indigenous prisoners was 2.9 years in 2002, compared with 3.5 years for all prisoners (graph 11.37).
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