Reducing the NSW Indigenous imprisonment rate

Full report: Indigenous imprisonment in NSW: A closer look at the trend (pdf 1Mb)

Release date: 10.30am Monday, 10 July 2017

The number of Indigenous offenders receiving a prison sentence in New South Wales (NSW) could be reduced by more than 500 a year if just half of those currently given a short prison sentence for minor assault, stalking/intimidation, breaching an Apprehended Violence Order, breaching a good behaviour bond or breaching a suspended sentence were, instead, placed on an Intensive Correction Order (ICO).

The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) reached this conclusion after examining factors behind the 25 per cent increase in Indigenous imprisonment in NSW since 2013. BOCSAR found that the increase in imprisonment stemmed from three main factors:

  1. An increase in the number of Indigenous defendants charged with stalking/intimidation and/or breach of a good behaviour bond or suspended sentence.
  2. An increase in the proportion of convicted Indigenous offenders receiving a prison sentence for the offence of stalking/intimidation; and
  3. An increase in the length of time being spent on remand by Indigenous defendants refused bail, in large part because of a growth in court delay in the NSW District Criminal Court.

The growth in imprisonment for stalking/intimidation offences has been particularly noteworthy. BOCSAR found that the number of Indigenous Australians imprisoned in NSW for stalking/intimidation offences was more than eight times higher in 2016 than it had been in 2012.

According to the BOCSAR research, the abrupt growth in Indigenous defendants charged with stalking/intimidation offences likely reflects a change in policing policy rather than a real increase in the incidence of stalking/intimidation.

Commenting on the findings, the director of BOCSAR, Dr Don Weatherburn, said that the vast majority of Indigenous defendants convicted of minor assaults, stalking/intimidation, breach of a good behaviour bond or breach of a suspended sentence were given a short (i.e. less than 12 month) prison sentence. 

"This makes them eligible for sanctions such as ICO, which attempt to address the underlying causes of offending behaviour. Unfortunately, ICOs are rarely given for the sorts of offences that have driven recent growth in Indigenous imprisonment in NSW."

"It is to be hoped that reforms currently underway to increase the use of ICOs have the effect of reducing the rate of Indigenous imprisonment in NSW."

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn, 8346 1100

Copies of the report: