Imprisonment in Australia: trends in prison populations & imprisonment rates 1982-1998


This paper examines changes in Australia’s rates of imprisonment over the past 17 years. In that time the number of prisoners has grown from 9826 in 1982 to 19,906 in 1998—an increase of 102 per cent. The rate per 100,000 of imprisonable age has increased more slowly—by 55 per cent.

Queensland has the highest rate of imprisonment in the country—23 per cent above the national average, while Victoria has the lowest—43 per cent below the national average. If Queensland, with a smaller population than Victoria, had the same number of prisoners as Victoria, it would save in the order of $80 million per year. If it had the same rate of imprisonment as Victoria it would save in the order of $110 million per year.

This paper maps trends in imprisonment over two decades, points out significant differences between the States, and demonstrates the value of long data sets to map changes and trends to better inform public policy.