Why is the NSW prison population falling?                


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Release date: 1 November 2012 Embargo: 10.30am

After steadily increasing for more than a decade, the NSW prison population is now on its way back down according to a new report released today by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

The Bureau attributes the fall to lower crime rates, a reduction in the likelihood of imprisonment and the imposition of shorter prison sentences.

After increasing by 65 per cent between January 1998 and July 2009, the total NSW prison population began to fall. In the 29 months from July 2009 to December 2011, the NSW prison population decreased from 10,322 to 9,626, a fall of 6.7 percent.

The fall in receptions is mainly attributable to fewer prison receptions for four offences: assault, traffic/motor vehicle regulatory offences, theft, and break and enter. These four offence categories alone accounted for 75 percent of the total decrease in sentenced prisoner receptions from July 2009 to December 2011.

The fall in prison receptions is partly due to a decrease in the number of convicted offenders and partly due to a fall in the percentage of convicted offenders given a prison sentence.

The total number of convicted offenders in NSW fell by 13 per cent between April 2009 to March 2011. The proportion of offenders convicted of theft who were imprisoned fell by 15.2 percent between 2009 and 2012, while the proportion convicted of assault fell by 11.7 percent.

Prison sentence length is also down for some offences. The mean sentence length fell for assault (down 13.0%), break and enter (down 11.1%) and traffic offences (down 7.2%).

Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, said that sooner or later the fall in crimes like theft and break and enter around Australia over the last 20 years was bound to have an effect on the number of theft and burglary offenders entering prison.

'It is not entirely clear at this stage why courts are less likely to imprison some offenders or why they are imprisoning some for shorter periods.'

'It could be due to a reduction in the seriousness of some of the offences or offenders coming before the courts or it could be in recognition that most categories of crime are now under control.'

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 9231-9190 (Please do not ring mobile)