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Statistics from various sources show that crime rates can differ greatly between places, be they cities, suburbs or particular rural areas.(SEE FOOTNOTE 1) There are likely to be many reasons for the differences. Places with high rates tend to have often interrelated problems of disadvantage (such as low income, high unemployment, low levels of educational attainment, family relationship problems, and high levels of drug use). But differences between areas may also relate to the opportunities to commit crime in those areas and the extent to which people and properties are protected. While high crime rates are often associated with particular localities, differences can also be seen when crime rates in wider communities are compared. For instance, they tend to be higher in metropolitan than in non-metropolitan areas.(SEE FOOTNOTE 2) Comparisons among the States and Territories are of interest because the criminal justice system, including police, courts, and correctional services, is primarily administered by State and Territory Governments. Comparing the different outcomes across the jurisdictions may be useful in evaluating the effectiveness of various crime prevention and reduction strategies.(SEE FOOTNOTE 3)
In 2000 crime victim rates, based on police records, varied considerably among Australia's States and Territories, and no single State had the highest (or lowest) rate for all offence categories. New South Wales had by far the highest crime rate for robbery and kidnapping/abduction offences, but murder, assault and sexual assault were more prevalent in the Northern Territory, while property crimes (excluding motor vehicle theft) were more prevalent in Western Australia. Motor vehicle theft rates were highest in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) followed by South Australia. Despite exceptions for some categories of offence, Victoria and Tasmania were generally more likely to have crime rates below the national average across the offence categories shown. The ACT also had below average rates for all the personal offence categories and Queensland had below average rates of property crime.
There are likely to be many factors accounting for the differences. States differ in their demographic and socioeconomic profiles: some population groups are more likely to be either perpetrators or victims of crime and some of these groups are more highly represented in certain States. For example, States and Territories with relatively young populations tend to have higher crime rates than States with older population profiles, as a high proportion of offences are committed by young people (particularly young men).(SEE FOOTNOTE 4) The extent to which there are differences in the representation of population groups with other characteristics more likely to be correlated with crime (such as those with low levels of educational attainment, high unemployment rates and low income) may also be a factor. Differences in the level of drug use in each community may also be important. Yet other factors such as the level of policing activity and the way police record crimes may be important, as may differences in the proportions of victims who actually report the crime to police.
It should be noted that differences in reporting rates for selected offences across the States and Territories (as described in a later section) suggest that the relative ranking of the States and Territories may have differed somewhat if all crimes had been reported to police.
Victims of selected offences recorded by police(a) - 2000
Source: Recorded Crime, Australia, 2000, Cat. no. 4510.0.
Unlawful entry with intent victimisation rates, States and Territories with the highest rates in 2000
Unlawful entry with intent victimisation rates, States and Territories with the lowest rates in 2000
Changes in crime rates, based on police records, within each of the States and Territories through the 1990s show some quite different trends, which also differ according to the nature of the offences involved. Such differences are illustrated by focusing on the two major offence categories presented as the headline indicators (unlawful entry with intent and assault) and are shown in the graphs on this page.
While national rates of unlawful entry with intent increased slowly between 1993 (when comparative statistics first became available) and 2000, this trend was not uniform. The annual rates fluctuated in many of the States, but in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, the ACT and New South Wales (the four States/Territories with the highest rates in 2000, listed from highest to lowest) the rates were higher in 2000 than in 1993, while in South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria they were lower. New South Wales, closely followed by the ACT, experienced the greatest increases over the period (the rates for unlawful entry with intent increased by 35% and 31% respectively).
It is not known why the large fluctuations, evident in most States and Territories, occurred. However, some of the changes may have been associated with changes in levels of drug-related crime, changes in policing strategies, and changes in levels of reporting.
Comparative data relating to the prevalence of assault cover a shorter time period than for unlawful entry with intent, and have generally been less volatile. In the six year period 1995 to 2000, assault rates increased in all States and Territories except Victoria (the State with the lowest rates over the entire period) and Queensland (which also had relatively low rates). New South Wales, being among the States with the highest rates (see graphs below), experienced the greatest increase in rates: up by 72% between 1995 and 2000, with the rate increasing each year over this period. The next highest increase occurred in Tasmania (34%) and the ACT (24%), although in 2000 the assault rates there (578 and 565 per 100,000 persons respectively) remained substantially below the Australian average (737 per 100,000 persons). As previously noted, the Northern Territory had the highest assault rate in 2000, which continued the pattern seen in previous years.
Assault victimisation rates, States and Territories with the highest rates in 2000
Assault victimisation rates, States and Territories with the lowest rates in 2000
CRIME REPORTED TO POLICE
National Crime and Safety Surveys conducted by the ABS estimate the extent to which incidents of crime were reported to the police. Whether the most recent incident in the last 12 months has been reported is widely used as a guide to the overall preparedness of victims to report crime. As such it is sometimes used to provide an indication of whether there are particular issues with respect to reporting incidents in individual States and Territories, or in relation to particular types of offences.
The table below outlines results for each of the States and Territories. For break-ins (which exclude attempted break-ins) the national reporting rate in 1998 was 78%, with Victoria having the highest rate (83%) and the Northern Territory the lowest rate (66%). For assault, victims were much less likely to report the most recent incident to the police - for Australia the reporting rate was 28%, ranging from 31% in South Australia to 20% in the ACT. One of the known factors for the difference in reporting patterns for different offence types is the requirement to report property crimes for insurance purposes, whereas for assault victims a common reason for not telling police was that the incident was either seen as too trivial or that it was a personal matter.
Despite some changes in the way in which data were collected between surveys,(SEE FOOTNOTE 5) there is evidence to suggest that the propensity to report some crimes has changed over time. Thus comparisons with similar data from the 1993 Crime and Safety Survey show a decrease in the reporting rates for assaults (32% in 1993 compared to 28% in 1998 nationally). The results show that a decrease occurred in all States and Territories except Queensland. However, the reporting rate for break-ins had remained much the same at the national level with only relatively small changes occurring in some States and Territories. At the national level the reporting rates for break-ins were 79% and 78% in 1993 and 1998 respectively.
Crime reporting rates(a) - 1993 and 1998
Source: Crime and Safety Survey, Australia, 1993 and Crime and Safety Survey, Australia, 1993, both Cat. no. 4509.0.
Imprisonment rates, per 100,000 adults(a)
Imprisonment rates, per 100,000 persons(a)
Indigenous and non-Indigenous imprisonment rates, per 100,000 adults(a)
Although courts may impose various penalties for people convicted of criminal offences (fines, community service orders and the like) imprisonment is the most severe social response to crime in Australia. Changes in the imprisonment rate (the number of people in prison relative to a measure of the total population) do not necessarily measure changes in the level of crime or success in catching and convicting criminals, although they may be related. They can reflect changes in community attitudes (played out through the court system) as to how tough the community's response to crime should be, as well as changes in prison capacity.
As seen in the graph above, the rate of imprisonment has increased every year over the decade 1990-2000 so that by 2000, 148 adults (those aged 17 years or over) in every 100,000 were serving a prison sentence - up from 112 per 100,000 in 1990.
Historical data compiled by the Australian Institute of Criminology, given in the graph above, show that this trend has been part of a longer term trend over the last twenty or so years. There had also been an increasing trend during the 1950s and 1960s. Measured as a proportion of the total population rather than the adult population (those aged 17 years or over), the graph also shows that imprisonment rates in 2000 stood at levels higher than in most other years of the 20th century. Despite the upward trend seen over recent decades, the rates have not returned to the levels observed at the beginning of the 20th century: in 2000 there were 113 prisoners per 100,000 persons (of all ages) compared to 126 in 1900.
The imprisonment of Indigenous Australians has been a major issue of social concern in Australia, with imprisonment rates much higher than those of the general population. There have also been related concerns about the high proportion of Indigenous Australians in prisons dying of unnatural causes, especially by suicide.(SEE FOOTNOTE 6)
In 2000, there were 1,727 Indigenous prisoners per 100,000 adults of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, an imprisonment rate over 14 times the rate for non-Indigenous people (122 prisoners per 100,000 adults). The Indigenous imprisonment rate fluctuated through the 1990s, but in 2000 it was higher than in 1990 when the rate was 1,638 prisoners per 100,000 adults. In June 2000, there were close to 4,100 Indigenous prisoners in Australia; they represented 19% of the 21,714 people in prison at that time.
1 For example, see Losoncz I., Carcach C., Blake M., and Muscat G. 2000, Atlas of Crime in Australia, 2000, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra. Differences can also be seen in tables 9.1 and 9.2 in: Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Crime and Safety, Supplementary national and standard tables, Australia, 1998, Cat. no. 4509.0.40.001, ABS, Canberra.
2 National statistics relating to differences between 'metropolitan' and 'non-metropolitan' areas have been published in Australian Bureau of Statistics, Crime and Safety, Australia, 1998, Cat. no. 4509.0, ABS, Canberra. Differences within States have also recently been published in the following State-based publications: see Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Crime and Safety, 2000, New South Wales, Cat. no. 4509.1, ABS, Canberra. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Crime and Safety, 2000, South Australia, Cat. no. 4509.4, ABS, Canberra and Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Crime and Safety, Western Australia, 1999, Cat. no. 4509.4, ABS, Canberra.
3 It should be noted that comparisons of the criminal justice systems of the States and Territories, and their impact on crime rates, may be affected by differences in legislation and administrative or organisational arrangements.
4 See Weatherburn D. 2001, What causes crime? (Crime and Justice Bulletin B54) at URL: http://www.Lawlink.nsw.gov.au, last viewed 18 February 2002. This is also partly corroborated by the fact that a large proportion of prisoners in Australia are young men. At 30 June 2000, 60% of all prisoners were males aged between 20 and 35 years. (See Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Prisoners in Australia, 2000, Cat. no. 4517.0, ABS, Canberra). In contrast, males in this age group represented 12% of the total population of Australia in 2000.
5 There were changes to the way in which data on crimes were reported to police and to the way assault was collected in the 1993 and 1998 surveys; therefore the data are not directly comparable. They are, however, indicative of changes that may have occurred. For further details of the changes referred to see Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Crime and Safety, Australia, 1998, Cat. no. 4509.0, ABS, Canberra.
6 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) 1991, Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Volume 1 (Commissioner, Elliot Johnson), AGPS, Canberra.