Why are Indigenous imprisonment rates rising?

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Release date: 7 October 2009

New research by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has shown that between 2001 and 2008 the adult Indigenous imprisonment rate rose by 37 percent in Australia and 48 percent in New South Wales.

Over the same period the non-Indigenous rate of imprisonment in NSW rose by only seven per cent.

One quarter of the increase in Indigenous imprisonment in NSW has come from a growth in the number of Indigenous persons held on remand.

Three quarters of the growth is associated with a growth in the number of sentenced Indigenous prisoners.

The increase in the number of remandees appears to be due to a greater proportion of Indigenous defendants being refused bail and an increase in the time spent on remand.

The growth in the sentenced Indigenous prisoner population is due to (a) an increase in the proportion of Indigenous offenders receiving a prison sentence and (b) an increase in the length of sentences imposed.

The changes in (a) are particularly marked in the case of offences involving acts intended to cause injury and offences against justice procedures (e.g. breach of a court order). The changes in (b) are particularly marked in the case of offenders receiving a sentence of imprisonment for burglary.

With the possible exception of offences against justice procedures, it does not appear that the increase in imprisonment is due to increased offending. The evidence indicates that most of the increase in Indigenous prisoner numbers is due to tougher bail and sentencing policies.

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 0419-494-408

Link to pdf report