Prison sentences in Australia: estimates of the characteristics of offenders sentenced to prison in 1987-88


Did you know that of the more than 23 000 sentenced offenders received into Australian prisons each year:

  • Only about 1 in 10 are likely to remain in custody for one year or more;
  • Most have been convicted of property offences (almost one third) or driving offences (almost one quarter);
  • Fewer than 1 in 6 are violent offenders, and
  • Of those convicted of murder, most serve between 10 and 12 years in prison?

It is suspected that for most readers, these items of information, together with many others contained in this Trends and Issues, will amount to new facts about prison sentences in this country. They are facts which have been ingeniously deduced from existing prison statistics to provide, for the first time in Australia, an overview of the sentences which are actually being imposed by the nation's courts.

It will be seen that these sentences vary substantially between jurisdictions. For instance, offenders imprisoned in the most populous states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria overall serve longer terms (on average over six months) than do those in other jurisdictions (on average less than four months); and Aborigines are not only sentenced to prison at twenty times the rate of non-Aborigines, but also tend to go to prison for less serious offences than non-Aborigines. Disparities like these require immediate discussion and redress. The data presented here are intended to contribute to such dialogue and action.