4517.0 - Prisoners in Australia, 2016 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 08/12/2016   
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The management of adult persons in custody and those on remand is the responsibility of state and territory corrective services agencies. Information on these persons is recorded by the corrective services agency for operational and case management purposes. Corrective services statistics published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) are based on data extracted from these administrative records for all states and territories.

Within the ABS, corrective services statistics are produced by the National Corrective Services Statistics Unit (NCSSU). The NCSSU operates under the auspices of an Inter-Governmental Agreement between the Commonwealth and the Corrective Services Ministers of each of the states and territories. One of the major functions of the NCSSU is to compile, analyse, publish and disseminate nationally comparable corrective services statistics.

For information on the institutional environment of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), including the legislative obligations of the ABS, financing and governance arrangements, and mechanisms for scrutiny of ABS operations, please see ABS Institutional Environment.


The Prisoner Census provides statistics on all persons in the legal custody of adult corrective services in each state and territory in Australia, as at 30 June. These statistics describe the characteristics of prisoners, their sentence length, the most serious offence/charge for which offenders are imprisoned, and provide a basis for measuring change over time.


Data from the Prisoner Census is released annually in Prisoners in Australia (cat. no. 4517.0) with accompanying data cubes within approximately 6 months of the reference period. Each release includes data for the current reference year, along with +10 year time series for some data items. Data on Federal Offenders (sentenced prisoners and parolees who have committed at least one Federal offence) are released as a supplementary chapter within six months of the initial release.


The Prisoner Census is based on a snapshot of all prisoners taken as at midnight on 30 June of each year. The data are extracted from each state and territory's prisoner management information system. As it is a census, the data are not subject to sampling error. Non-sampling errors can arise from inaccuracies in recording by corrective services agencies, when the data are extracted, processed and disseminated. The ABS has limited influence over any errors associated with data recorded by external sources. The ABS does provide a collection manual which outlines the scope, coverage, counting rules and data item definitions for the Prisoner Census to minimise data extraction errors. Efficient processing and editing procedures are in place within the ABS to minimise processing and reporting errors.

Revisions to data may be made when new information about the accuracy of previously published data has been identified.


The Prisoner Census is taken on 30 June each year. Due to differing scope and counting rules, the data may not be comparable to those published in other national and state/territory publications.

In order to ensure consistency in the data for each state and territory provided in Prisoners in Australia (cat. no. 4517.0), prisoner census statistics are compiled according to national standards and classifications. However, some differences still occur due to state and territory legislative and procedural requirements or to limitations of the various administrative data bases that are used to extract the data.

In all states and territories except Queensland, persons are considered adults if aged 18 years and over. In Queensland persons are considered adults if aged 17 years and over.

Statistics for persons held in custody are presented by the state or territory in which they were held and this may not be the state or territory in which they were sentenced.

The ABS also publishes a quarterly publication that provides a picture of the flow of prisoners through the system of corrective services: Corrective Services, Australia (cat. no. 4512.0). These data are not comparable to those in Prisoners in Australia as they are based on the average daily custodial population for each month; monthly sentenced receptions into custody; and a count of those in custody or community-based corrections on the first day of the month.

The Prisoner Census is limited in scope to persons remanded or sentenced to adult custodial corrective services agencies, therefore does not include people serving community service orders (published in Corrective Services, Australia) or those held under the authority of juvenile justice agencies.

A number of legislative and administrative system changes have occurred over time and the statistical impact of these changes is detailed in the Explanatory Notes.


The Prisoners in Australia publication contains detailed Explanatory Notes and a Glossary which provide information on the data sources, counting rules, terminology, classifications and other technical aspects associated with these statistics.

To assist in the comparison of the prisoner populations across states and territories, imprisonment rates are included in the publication. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rates, both crude and age standardised, are included to allow for meaningful comparisons of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous prisoner populations.


Please refer to the Downloads tab for the products that are available for free from this collection.

If the required information is not available from the publication or Data Cubes, the National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics within the ABS may be able to help you with a customised service to suit your needs. Please contact the ABS National Information and Referral Service (NIRS) on 1300 135 070 or email client.services@abs.gov.au>.