Why does NSW have a higher imprisonment rate than Victoria?


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Release Date: Embargo 6 February 2011, 6pm

The NSW imprisonment rate is virtually double than of Victoria (204/100,000 of population, compared with 104/100,000 of population) yet NSW prisoners actually spend slightly less time in custody than their Victorian counterparts.

This surprising finding has emerged from a study of the imprisonment rate difference between NSW and Victoria released today by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

The Bureau attributes the higher NSW imprisonment rate to four factors:

1. A higher court appearance rate (3196.8/100,000 pop. compared with 2,542.1/100,000 pop. in Victoria);
2. A higher likelihood of conviction (85.7%, compared with 79% in Victoria),
3. Greater use of imprisonment (7.5% of convicted offenders sent to prison, compared with 5.4% in Victoria) and;
4. A much higher rate of remand (47.3 per 100,000 pop on remand, compared with 19.3 per 100,000 pop. in Victoria).

The higher court appearance rate in NSW is likely to be due, at least in part, to higher rates of crime. The NSW recorded armed robbery rate, for example, is nearly double that of Victoria.

In other cases, the higher NSW court appearance rate is more likely to reflect differences between NSW and Victoria in policing or penal policy.

NSW, for example, has double the number of people appearing in court for breaching apprehended violence orders (2,976 for NSW v 1057 for Victoria). This difference is much too large to be plausibly attributed to a greater proclivity on the part of domestic violence offenders living in NSW to breach domestic violence orders.

The more likely explanation is that the number of domestic violence orders issued in NSW is much higher than in Victoria and/or that police in NSW are more likely to take action in response to an alleged breach of an apprehended violence order.

There are several possible explanations for the higher proportion of defendants convicted in NSW. Juries in NSW may be more likely to convict defendants who plead not guilty than their Victorian counterparts. Alternatively, the proportion of defendants pleading guilty may be higher in NSW than in Victoria.

There are several possible explanations for the higher proportion of offenders imprisoned in NSW. It might be because NSW courts are more willing to use the sanction of imprisonment than Victorian courts. However it might also be because NSW courts deal with a more serious population of offenders or that prosecutors are more likely to lay multiple charges.

The Bureau found no difference between NSW and Victoria in the length of time spent by prisoners placed on remand. The higher NSW higher remand rate appears to be due to either a higher rate of bail refusal and/or a higher rate of bail revocation.

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 9231-9190, 0419-494-408