A descriptive analysis of patterns of recidivism in the WA prison population

Criminology Research Council grant ; (11/84)

Failure rate analysis was used to study the recidivism of all prisoners released for the first time between July 1975 and June 1984 from Western Australian prisons. The total was 11 262. Recidivism was defined as re-incarceration and excluded convictions involving other penal sanctions. Prisoners serving sentences in police lock-ups, remanded in custody or sentenced to imprisonment prior to July 1975 were also excluded.

Overall, the probability of recidivism for Aboriginal male prisoners was 80 per cent and for non-Aboriginal males was 48 per cent and the median times to fail (re-incarceration) for these groups were 11 months and 18 months respectively. Female Aboriginal recidivism was 75 per cent and female non-Aboriginal recidivism was 29 per cent and the median times to fail were 16 months and 19 months respectively. Higher recidivism was observed for male, Aboriginal and young prisoners.

Other variables considered (at first receival) included major offence, actual time served, sentence type, prison (at exit), and marital, educational and employment status. For example, lower recidivism was observed for non-Aboriginal prisoners incarcerated longer and for more serious offences.

The time to fail was consistently much shorter for Aboriginals across all factors than for non-Aboriginal prisoners. A general downward trend in recidivism was found between 1975-76 and 1978-79 although it was less marked for Aboriginal prisoners and did not continue beyond 1980-81.

The contribution of Aboriginal recidivism to high rates of imprisonment in Western Australia was discussed in relation to the utility of imprisonment. The limitations and merits of failure rate analysis in recidivism studies were considered.