Australian Institute of Criminology

Skip to content

Prison population: proportion of those imprisoned for violence rises, proportion imprisoned for property offences falls

Media Release

21 August 2000

The Australian Institute of Criminology has released a new report examining the composition of Australia's prison population and its changes over the past ten years. The report, Imprisonment in Australia: The Offence Composition of Australian Correctional Populations, 1988 and 1998 by Carlos Carcach and Anna Grant shows:

  • Between 1988 and 1998 the number of people in Australia's prisons increased from 12,321 to 19,906, an increase of 62%.
  • The most notable difference has been an increase in the proportion of prisoners who are incarcerated for assault and a decrease in the proportion imprisoned for property offences, including break and enter.
  • In 1988 7.5% of the total prison population were imprisoned for assault. In 1998 this percentage had grown to 12.6%, an increase of 5.1.
  • In 1988 the percentage of prisoners imprisoned for theft was 9.3%. In 1998 this had decreased to 5.9%, a decrease of 3.4, while the proportion imprisoned for break and enter fell by 2.7% from 15.9% to 13.2%. (Table 2 of the report has a full break-down of offence by gender)
  • Although there was no significant difference between the offence composition of male and female prisoners in 1988, during 1998 differences emerged - there was a significant decrease in the share of assault and an increase in the share of offences against government security and justice procedures in the female prison population.
  • The age structure of offences has remained stable over the 1988-98 period. However, there were significant changes at the level of specific age groups and offences. Prisoners in the 20-24m 25-29 and 30-34 year age groups increased their share in the total of inmates held in prison for assault. Those aged 50 years and over increased as a percentage of all held in prison for sexual assault.

In releasing the paper, AIC Director, Dr Adam Graycar said "this analysis of offence composition is not a representation of the structure of crime in Australian society, it is a reflection of the types of offences for which people are imprisoned, and regardless of crime rates the offence structure can significantly affect the size of prison populations."

This paper, he said, demonstrates the need to look beyond only aggregated summaries. If one looks only at large-scale results (eg nation-wide, or all offences within a state) one might miss some movements in specific types of offences, or within smaller jurisdictions.