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The definition of adult varies among jurisdictions and over time. Data in this section refer to persons aged 18 years and over.

Past editions of Facts & figures have defined adults as persons aged 17 years and over when calculating rates of imprisonment. In this edition imprisonment rates for reference periods prior to 2004 have been recalculated based on the revised adult age.

Persons under corrective services

Of the sentencing options available to the courts, corrective service authorities manage the offenders sentenced to imprisonment, community corrections or periodic detention.

Figure 86 : Offenders by type of corrective program, 2003-04 (a)

Figure 86

(a) Figures based on daily average counts.

(b) Includes periodic detention (available only in NSW and ACT).

  • 68% of offenders managed by corrective service authorities in 2003-04 were placed in community-based programs.
  • 32% were in prison serving sentences or on remand.

Source: Reference 23


A national census of adult prisoners is taken on 30 June each year. The most recent statistics available are from the 2004 prison census.

It should be noted that the prisoner counts include both sentenced prisoners and those on remand (awaiting trial or sentence), unless otherwise specified.

A total of 24,171 persons were in custody in Australian prisons on the night of 30 June 2004, a 2.6% increase on the number recorded in 2003. This corresponds to a rate of 158 per 100,000 adult population. This is 1% higher than the 2003 rate of 156, and continues the increasing trend for the national imprisonment rate in the past decade. The majority, 19,236, were sentenced prisoners and 4935 were remandees.

Source: Reference 25

Trend in prison populations

Figure 87 : Prisoners, rate per 100,000 adults, 1984-2004

Figure 87

  • Between 1984 and 2004, the overall imprisonment rate increased from 88 to 158 per 100,000 adult population. The prison population has grown by an average 5% a year since 1984.
  • At 30 June 2004 remanded prisoners (those awaiting trial or sentence), accounted for 20% of the total prisoner population, up from 12% in 1984.
  • The rate of prisoners remanded in custody tripled between 1984 and 2004, from 10 to 32 per 100,000 population.
  • The rate of increase has slowed since 1999.

Source: References 2 and 25

Most serious offence

Offenders can be sentenced to a prison term for one or a number of offences. Offenders are categorised according to their most serious offence, that being the one with the longest sentence.

Violent prisoners are those convicted of homicide, assault, sex offences, and robbery. Prisoners convicted of property offences include those charged with break and enter and with other theft (including motor vehicle theft). Other offenders are those who have been convicted of fraud, offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations, drug offences and others, such as public order and driving offences.

On 30 June 2004 there were 9110 sentenced prisoners in Australia whose most serious offence was a violent offence, 3661 whose most serious offence was a property offence, and 6465 who were sentenced for other offences.

Figure 88 : Prisoners sentenced for violent, property and other offences, percentage of total prisoners, 1986-2004

Figure 88

  • The percentage of prisoners sentenced for violent offences increased from 38% in 1986 to 47% in 1995 and remained steady thereafter.
  • Those sentenced for property offences declined from 25% in 1986 to 20% in 1994, a percentage that has since remained steady.
  • The percentage sentenced for other offences has remained steady at about one-third.

Source: Reference 25

Table 6 : Sentenced prisoners by most serious offence, by gender, number and percentage, 2004
Sex offences2,16812141
Break & enter2,3071312710
Other theft (a)1,075615212
Fraud (b)509316513
GSJ (c)1,431813110
Drug offences1,7391018615
Other (d)2,194121109
(a) Includes motor vehicle theft.
(b) Deception and related offences.
(c) Government security and justice procedures, includes offences such as breach of court order, breach of parole, escape custody, offences against justice procedures, treason, sedition and resisting customs officials.
(d) Includes other offences against the person and property, public order offences and driving offences.
  • The most serious offences for which male prisoners were sentenced included assault, robbery, break and enter and other offences.
  • For female prisoners the most serious offences included drug offences, fraud, other theft, assault and homicide.
  • Males imprisoned for the violent offences of homicide, assault, sex offences and robbery accounted for almost half of all sentenced male prisoners in 2002 (48%).
  • One-third of sentenced females (32%) were imprisoned for violent offences.
  • These patterns have remained relatively stable between 2003 and 2004.

Source: Reference 25


Figure 89 : Prisoners by gender, rate per 100,000 adults, 1984-2004

Figure 89

  • Between 1984 and 2004, the overall imprisonment rate for males increased from 170 to 299 per 100,000 adult male population.
  • The female rate of imprisonment was 7 per 100,000 in 1984 and 22 per 100,000 in 2004.
  • 7% of prisoners were women in 2004, up from 4% in 1984.
  • The number of male and female prisoners increased annually by an average of 5% and 8% respectively over the period 1984-2004.
  • 58% of males and 50% of females imprisoned in 2004 were known to have been in prison previously.

Source: References 2 and 25

Figure 90 : Age and gender of prisoners, rate per 100,000 relevant population, 2004

Figure 90

  • 93% of all prisoners in 2004 were male.
  • 60% of all prisoners were under 35 years of age.
  • For both males and females, 25 to 34 year-olds had the highest imprisonment rates in 2004, followed by 18 to 24 year-olds.
  • This breakdown of prisoners by age and gender reflects court data patterns.

Source: References 2 and 25

Indigenous status

Figure 91 depicts the imprisonment rate of Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) and non-Indigenous persons. These data include both sentenced prisoners and remandees.

Note: Population projections for Indigenous adults are based on data provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The ABS uses two methods to estimate Indigenous populations: the low series and the high series. Both employ certain assumptions about births, deaths and migration. The high series also incorporates assumptions about a change in the propensity to identify as Indigenous. Figures in this publication present rates based on high series population data.

Source: Reference 27

Figure 91 : Indigenous and non-Indigenous prisoners, rate per 100,000 adults, 1992-2004

Figure 91

  • On 30 June 2004 the Indigenous imprisonment rate was almost fourteen times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous persons, 1787 per 100,000 Indigenous adult population compared with 127 for non-Indigenous adult population.
  • Indigenous prisoners comprised 21% of the total prisoner population in 2004, an increase from 14% in 1992.
  • 77% of Indigenous prisoners were known to have previously been in prison.

Source: References 2, 25 and 27

Community corrections

Community corrections comprise a variety of non-custodial programs which vary in the extent and nature of supervision, the conditions of the order, and the restrictions on the person's freedom of movement in the community. They generally provide either a non-custodial sentencing alternative or a post-custodial mechanism for re-integrating prisoners into the community under continued supervision.

  • In Australia during 2003-04, there were 50,821 offenders per day, on average, serving community corrections orders, a decrease of 2% from the number recorded in 2002-03.
  • This corresponds to a rate of 332 per 100,000 adults; 549 per 100,000 adult males and 116 per 100,000 adult females.
  • Females accounted for a larger proportion of the community corrections population compared with the prison population: 18% and 7% respectively.

Source: References 2, 23 and 25

Figure 92 : Average daily community corrections populations, by gender, number, 2000-01 to 2003-04

Figure 92

  • The average daily number of male offenders on community corrections orders declined from 48,234 in 2000-01, to 41,369 in 2003-04. The number of female offenders declined from 10,928 to 9011.
  • Between 2000-01 and 2003-04 the rate of offenders on community corrections orders per 100,000 adults declined by 18% for males and 21% for females. Conversely, the rate of imprisonment increased by 3% for males and 10% for females during the same period.

Source: References 2, 23 and 25

Community corrections orders are classified into three main categories:

  • restricted movement orders (e.g. home detention);
  • reparation orders (e.g. fine options, community service); and
  • supervision (compliance) orders (e.g. parole, bail, sentenced probation).

Figure 93 : Average daily community corrections populations, by type of order, 2002-03 and 2003-04

Figure 93

  • Supervision orders are the most commonly used option, with 38,648 offenders under supervision orders in 2003-04. This is approximately the same number as in 2002-03.
  • Reparation orders are also common, with 15,850 offenders serving this option in 2003-04, a 7% decline from 17,031 reparation orders in 2002-03.
  • In 2003-04, 684 offenders were serving restricted movement orders, up from 657 the previous year.

Source: Reference 23

Figure 94 : Successful completion of community corrections orders, percentages, 2002-03 and 2003-04

Figure 94

  • On average, 74% of all community corrections orders were successfully completed in 2003-04, the same proportion as in 2002-03.
  • Successful completions ranged from 70% for reparation orders to 77% for supervision orders.

Source: Reference 23

Indigenous status

On average, 38,853 non-Indigenous offenders and 7676 Indigenous offenders were serving community corrections orders in 2003-04.

Figure 95 : Average daily community corrections population by Indigenous status, rate per 100,000 adults, 2000-01 to 2003-04

Figure 95

  • In 2003-04, the Indigenous community corrections rate was ten times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous offenders, at 2717 per 100,000 relevant adult population compared with 259.
  • The community corrections rate for Indigenous people decreased between 2000-01 and 2002-03, from 2908 per 100,000 to 2534. However, in 2003-04 there was an increase over the previous year, rising to 2717 per 100,000 relevant adult population.
  • The community corrections rate for non-Indigenous people declined by 17% in the period 2000-01 to 2003-04, from 313 to 259 per 100,000 non-Indigenous adults.

Source: References 2, 23 and 27

Juveniles in detention

The Australian Institute of Criminology has maintained a collection on the number of persons detained in juvenile corrective institutions since 1981. The census consists of a count of the number of persons detained in institutions on the last day of each quarter each year. Similar information is not available for the sentenced non-custodial juvenile population.

The long-term trend data shown in Figure 96 are based on the census conducted on 30 June of each year.

Trend in juveniles in detention

Given the differences among jurisdictions regarding the definition of a juvenile, statistics are shown for people aged between 10 and 17 years. Figure 96 depicts the imprisonment rate of male and female juveniles from 1981 to 2004.

Figure 96 : Persons in juvenile corrective institutions by gender, rate per 100,000 juveniles, 1981-2004

Figure 96

  • Between 1981 and 2004, the overall incarceration rate for juveniles declined 60%, from 65 to 26 per 100,000.
  • In 2004, the rate for males declined to 56 per 100,000 from 105 in 1981. The rate for females dropped from 23 to 4.
  • The percentage of females in the total juvenile prison population has dropped from 17% in 1981 to 8% in 2004.
  • In 2004, the male incarceration rate was 10 times higher than the rate for female juveniles.

Source: Reference 26

Indigenous status

Data on incarcerated juveniles by Indigenous status have been made available since 1994. This section shows the incarceration rate of Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons in juvenile corrective institutions, from 31 March 1994 to 30 June 2004 for each quarter.

Note: These data are based on the 'high series' of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population projections for juveniles. This method accounts for the effects of increased propensity to identify as Indigenous between the 1991, 1996 and 2001 censuses. In 2004 the ABS released revised Indigenous population figures in the high series for 2001-2003, based on the 2001 census. Rate calculations for these years therefore differ from some previous publications, in particular where juveniles are concerned.

Figure 97 : Persons in juvenile corrective institutions by Indigenous status, rate per 100,000 juveniles, 31 March 1994-30 June 2004 (a)

Figure 97

(a) Between 30 September 1996 and 31 December 2002, rates have been calculated using detainee totals and population estimates excluding Tasmania. Detainee Indigenous status data for Tasmania are unavailable for this period.

  • The total number of Indigenous persons in juvenile corrective institutions on 30 June 2004 was 306. This represents 54% of the total number of persons detained in juvenile corrective institutions.
  • The incarceration rate for Indigenous juveniles was 313 per 100,000, 26 times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous juveniles (12 per 100,000).
  • There has been a 33% decline in the Indigenous juvenile imprisonment rate since the high of 468 per 100,000 recorded in March 1997.

Source: References 2, 26 and 27

Last updated
3 November 2017