Australian Institute of Criminology

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New prison figures show increasing rates of growth

Media Release

08 October 1999

During the past 17 years, the prison population in Australia has grown by 102 per cent, from 9826 in 1982 to 19 906 in 1998. This average increase of 4.2 per cent a year is two and a half times the average growth of the general adult population over the same period.

Queensland's prison population grew by 6.1 per cent a year from 1638 in 1982 to 4466 in 1998. Queensland's imprisonment rate of 171.3 is the highest of the states. (Northern Territory has a higher rate)

Queensland's imprisonment rate is 23 per cent above the national average. Although the rate declined by an average of 0.6 per cent a year from 1982 to 1993, it grew by an average of 10.5 per cent a year from 1994.

Victoria has the lowest imprisonment rate at 43 per cent below the national average.

These are among the findings of a new report from the Australian Institute of Criminology Imprisonment in Australia: Trends in Prison Populations and Imprisonment Rates 1982-1998 by Carlos Carcach & Anna Grant.

"If Queensland, with a smaller population than Victoria, had the same imprisonment rate as Victoria, it would save around $110 million a year", Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, Dr Adam Graycar, said today.

The lowest growth in prison population was observed in Tasmania where the number of prisoners increased from 237 in 1982 to 314 in 1998 - an average of 1.7 per cent a year.

As in many countries, Australia's rate of imprisonment is rising. The cost estimated at $52 049 per prisoner per year, is argued by many as outweighing the benefits.

This paper is the first of seven within the series of Trends and Issues papers from the Australian Institute of Criminology analysing the demographics of the prison population between 1982 and 1998.

Following are some graphs from the paper which show imprisonment rates in each jurisdiction compared with Australian rates.

Australia, States and Territories, 1982-98, imprisonment rate per 100,000 population of imprisonable age

New South Wales



Western Australia

South Australia


Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory