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Age

There is comparatively detailed information available about the age of offenders and prisoners. This section sets out the relevant data, as well as examining the incarceration situation in respect of juveniles.

Policing data

The ABS recently published information on offenders' age by Indigenous status and gender (ABS 2009b). Table 7 indicates that Indigenous female offenders in the Northern Territory are slightly older than their non-Indigenous counterparts. In New South Wales, the mean age is about the same and the median age is two years higher, while in South Australia, the mean age is a year lower, while the median is a year higher. Overall, it cannot be said that there is any clear difference in the age profile of offenders on the basis of Indigenous status. As can be seen below (see Figures 6 and 7), Indigenous female prisoners are, by contrast, younger than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Table 7: Mean and median age of female offenders by jurisdiction and Indigenous status, 2007–08
IndigenousNon-Indigenous
MeanMedianMeanMedian
NSW 25.8 23.0 25.7 21.0
SA 27.3 26.0 28.3 25.0
NT 30.4 30.0 29.0 26.0

Source: ABS 2009b

Table 8 sets out the proportion of female offenders in each age group who are Indigenous or listed as non-Indigenous, although Indigenous status was not known for a high proportion of offenders: 9.5 percent in New South Wales, 37.2 percent in South Australia and 32.3 in the Northern Territory. The offending profile in the Northern Territory was very different to the other two jurisdictions, as the majority of offenders were Indigenous, especially in the 10–14 year age group, where they accounted for almost three-quarters of offenders. In New South Wales, Indigenous offending declined dramatically for offenders aged 55 years and over; there was also a drop in the 15–19 year age group. Although the proportion of Indigenous offenders in South Australia was the same as in New South Wales (13%), there was a different age distribution, with an earlier decline (45 years and over).

Table 8: Age distribution of female offenders by jurisdiction and Indigenous status, 2007–08
NSWSANT
AgeIndigenousNon-IndigenousIndigenousNon-IndigenousIndigenousNon-Indigenous
10–14 16.6 77.6 19.4 68.9 72.2 19.6
15–19 10.0 83.0 11.4 55.3 54.3 22.7
20–24 15.1 71.9 12.5 43.3 55.4 12.3
25–29 14.9 73.3 15.3 42.4 58.6 12.5
30–34 17.4 72.6 15.4 43.0 56.0 7.9
35–39 16.2 73.0 13.9 47.5 56.9 9.1
40–44 15.4 73.5 14.5 46.5 53.3 6.6
45–49 14.4 74.7 7.3 47.6 52.9 10.1
50–54 11.0 75.9 9.1 66.2 39.1 14.9
55–59 4.4 80.7 3.7 65.4 44.4 22.2
60–64 3.2 83.8 81.4 34.8 30.4
65 and over 4.0 86.1 81.3 44.4
Total 13.4 77.1 13.0 49.8 54.9 12.8

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: ABS 2009b

 

Prisons data

Behrendt, Cunneen and Liebesman (2009) note that Indigenous female prisoners tend to be younger than their non-Indigenous counterparts; a NSW survey found that the average age of Indigenous women in prison was 25 years (Lawrie 2002). This may merely be a reflection of different demographic make-up. For example, in 1999, ATSISJC reported that the median age of Indigenous females was 21 years, compared with 34 years for non-Indigenous females (ATSISJC 1999).

Table 9 sets out the most recent ABS data on female prisoners' age (ABS 2008). As can be seen, the rate of imprisonment peaks at 25–29 years of age for both groups, at which the imprisonment rate is 21 times higher for Indigenous women. Excluding offenders under 18 years and 65 years and over, where there are only very small numbers, the over-representation is greatest for Indigenous women aged 20–24 years (23 times higher) and generally declines with age. The suggestion that Indigenous female prisoners are generally younger is borne out by these data; 23 percent were aged 24 years or under, compared with 12 percent for non-Indigenous women. Interestingly, recent WA data on the age of Indigenous women for all offence counts, arrest events and distinct persons indicate a peak in offending for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous women at 30–39 years (Fernandez et al. 2009).

Figure 5 sets the imprisonment rate per 100,000 females on the basis of age and Indigenous status, with Indigenous women aged 18–65 years over-represented by a factor of between six and 29. Offending peaks for both groups at 25–29 years, at 760 and 36 per 100,000 respectively. The imprisonment rate for Indigenous juveniles was 188 per 100,000, whereas the rate for non-Indigenous juveniles was zero. Non-Indigenous women aged 65 years and over were slightly over-represented (0.9 vs 0), although these numbers were, of course, very small.

The data in Figures 6 and 7 set out the mean and median ages of prisoners by jurisdiction, with Indigenous women younger than non-Indigenous women in all jurisdictions (mean: 31.4 vs 36.4 years; median: 30 vs 35.4 years). The age profile is particularly young in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory (under 27 years), while Indigenous female prisoners are slightly older in New South Wales and the Northern Territory. The median age in South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory is especially young, relative to the non-Indigenous population.

Table 9: Female prisoners by age in years and Indigenous status, 2007–08
IndigenousNon-Indigenous
AgeNo%No%
Under 18 3 0.5 0 0.0
18 5 0.9 10 0.7
19 12 2.1 18 1.3
20–24 113 19.9 143 10.4
25–29 151 26.5 259 18.9
30–34 101 17.8 225 16.4
35–39 98 17.2 242 17.6
40–44 47 8.3 186 13.6
45–49 20 3.5 139 10.1
50–54 13 2.3 79 5.8
55–59 3 0.5 39 2.8
60–64 3 0.5 18 1.3
65 and over 0 0.0 14 1.0
Total 569 100.0 1,372 100.0

Source: ABS 2008

Figure 5: Imprisonment rate by Indigenous status and age per 100,000, 2007–08

 Imprisonment rate by Indigenous status and age per 100,000, 2007–08

Source: ABS 2008

Figure 6: Mean age of female prisoners by jurisdiction and Indigenous status, 2007–08

 Mean age of female prisoners by jurisdiction and Indigenous status, 2007–08

Source: ABS 2008

Figure 7: Median age of female prisoners by jurisdiction and Indigenous status, 2007–08

 Median age of female prisoners by jurisdiction and Indigenous status, 2007–08

Source: ABS 2008