Imprisonment in Australia: sentenced populations


Australia’s imprisonment rate per 100,000 population has risen from 89.8 in 1982 to 139.2 in 1998 (Carcach and Grant 1999). The total prison population is made up of two different groups—those on remand and those in prison under sentence. Sentenced prisoners constitute the majority of persons held at correctional institutions, and thus have a major impact on the size of the total prison population. In Australia, about 85 per cent of the persons held in prison are sentenced. The rate at which sentenced prisoners are admitted to the correctional system and the time they spent under detention are the main factors affecting the size of prison populations at a given point in time.

Analysis of the size, composition and evolution of sentenced prison populations is important not only to understand variations in the total number of prisoners but also to gain knowledge about the impact of sentencing and correctional policies. Sentenced admissions are primarily a function of sentencing policies and practices. The time a person spends in prison, though also dependent upon sentencing policies and practices, is a function of correctional policies associated with parole and early release mechanisms.

This paper uses data from the National Prison Census (Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) 1982–93; Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 1994–98) to examine trends and characteristics associated with sentenced prison populations. Interest focuses on the proportion of sentenced prisoners in the total prison population and its evolution over time. The paper discusses the main characteristics of Australian sentenced prison populations in order to identify major changes over the period from 1982 to 1998.