Prisoner numbers in Australia have decreased, but we're not really sure why yet

phys.org | 5/14/2019 | Staff
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The latest release of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Prisoners in Australia data provides a surprising change: for the first time in seven years, the national imprisonment rate has not increased. In fact, it has decreased by 1%.

So why have we seen a decrease? Looking at the data paints a complicated picture.

Australia - Jurisdictions - Legislation - Culture - Differences

As Australia consists of eight independent jurisdictions, each with its own legislation and penal culture, there are significant differences in the size of their prison populations.

All jurisdictions, except for Tasmania and Victoria, show a small decrease in their imprisonment rate over the last year. However, it's still the case that the Northern Territory imprisons proportionally about four times as many people as the national average, followed by Western Australia (1.6 times). Both jurisdictions having been in pole position for decades.

Rates - Average - Victoria - Year

While imprisonment rates are historically well below the national average in Victoria, they have been increasing continuously since 2010, including over the last year.

There are also some subgroups that have been a matter of specific concern for some years.

Proportion - People - Remand - Trial - People

The proportion of people on remand, awaiting their trial, is still increasing. These people, who are technically "innocent until proven guilty," now account for 33% of the total prison population. This increase started in 2010 following several changes to the legislation restricting the use of bail, which has a stronger impact on Indigenous defendants. This is due to their offending and remand history, as well as social, economic and cultural disadvantage.

The stagnation of the Indigenous imprisonment rate, and particularly the decrease for Indigenous women, still leaves us with a very bleak picture when it comes to Indigenous over-representation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still 12 times more likely to be in prison. Indigenous women are 19 times more likely than non-Indigenous women.

Data - Indigenous

From the limited data we have available on Indigenous...
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