4517.0 - Prisoners in Australia, 2011 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 08/12/2011   
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8 December 2011
Embargoed: 11.30 am (AEST)

Prisoner numbers drop for the first time in a decade

There were 29,106 adults in prisons in Australia at 30 June 2011, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). At the same time last year, there were 29,700 prisoners in Australia. This is the first decrease in national adult prisoner numbers since 2001.

Three states contributed to the national decrease in the adult prisoner population: New South Wales prisoner numbers dropped by 8% (907 prisoners) and Queensland and Western Australian prisoner populations decreased marginally, by 0.7% (41 prisoners) and 3% (124 prisoners) respectively.

The Northern Territory and Western Australia continue to have the highest imprisonment rates (762 and 260 prisoners per 100,000 adults respectively). Northern Territory's imprisonment rate is over four time higher than for New South Wales; five times higher than for Queensland; and seven times higher than for Victoria.

Just over one quarter (26% or 7,656 prisoners) of prisoners identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, representing a rate of 1,868 per 100,000 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander population. The equivalent rate for non-Indigenous prisoners was 130 per 100,000 non-Indigenous population.

The number of female prisoners decreased 9% and males dropped by a lesser 1%. However over the past 10 years, female incarceration is increasing at a faster rate than males, with females increasing 35% and males 29%, since 2001.

Over half of prisoners in custody at 30 June 2011 had served a sentence in an adult prison prior to the current episode.

The average sentence length for sentenced prisoners was 5 years. The longest average sentence lengths were for homicide offences (14.8 years) and the shortest for traffic and vehicle regulatory offences (approximately 1 year).

Media notes:
  • The data excludes people in juvenile detention.
  • The average sentence length excludes prisoners with indeterminate, life with a minimum and periodic detention sentences.
  • When reporting ABS data you must attribute the Australian Bureau of Statistics (or the ABS) as the source.