Imprisonment in Australia: the remand population


The use of imprisonment as a punishment continues to be a serious issue for governments and the community. The use of custody on a person who has not yet been given a sentence should be of even greater concern. Official statistics indicate that about 15 per cent of prisoners in Australia are currently on remand and have not been sentenced.

The decision to remand an accused in custody entails an assessment of whether the person could be considered a threat either to themselves or to the safety of others, usually the victims of the crime, or whether the accused person is likely to appear for trial. In addition, the wider protection of the community in general is also a legitimate reason for the detention of a person in custody. The possibility of the accused not appearing in trial and the seriousness of the charge are other factors affecting remand decisions.

Remand practices may have an impact on the size of prison populations. This impact depends on the size of remand arrivals, the rate at which they flow into the correctional system, and the time they spend as remand prisoners. This study uses data from the National Prison Census to examine major trends in remand populations in Australia.

The results from this study suggest that remand practices have gone through little change in Australia over the past 16 years. Remand times have generally remained stable, though there are jurisdictional differences in the time distribution of remand prisoners. Remand prisoners have increased by 75 per cent during the period from 1982 to 1998. This represents 37 per cent of the increase experienced by the total prison population over the same period, which leads to the conclusion that use of remand has had a relatively minor impact on the size of Australian prison populations.