Why is the NSW prison population falling?

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1 NSW Bureu of Crime Sttistics nd Reserch Bureu Brief Issue pper no. 80 September 2012 Why is the NSW prison popultion flling? Jcqueline Fitzgerld & Simon Corben 1 Aim: After stedily incresing for more thn decde, from mid 2009 the NSW prison popultion strted flling. This pper ims to identify why this hs occurred. Method: The study relied upon dministrtive dt. Corrections dt ws considered to guge the size, timing nd nture of chnges in the prison popultion. Police recorded crime nd court dt were nlysed to mesure chnges in offending nd sentencing which eventully hve bering on prison numbers. Results: Corrections dt showed tht the decrese in the prison popultion ws limited to sentenced prisoners nd ws driven by reduction in the number of offenders serving sentences for Assult, Brek nd enter, Theft nd Trffc offences. Brek nd enter, Theft nd Assult, prisoners pper to hve decresed, in prt, becuse the incidence of these offences hve fllen. There hve lso been moves wy from the use of imprisonment s penlty for ech of the four offences whether becuse fewer offenders re being imprisoned or becuse the verge sentence length hs fllen. Conclusion: In 2011, fewer offenders were serving prison sentences for Assult, Brek nd enter, Theft nd Trffc offences. This ppers to be due to both reduction in the number of offenders in court nd chnges in sentencing prctices for certin offences. It is beyond the scope of this pper to scertin whether chnges in sentencing prctice reflect move towrds more lenient sentencing or whether they hve resulted from chnges in the severity of offences themselves. The reduction in the number of offenders for some offences ppers to be due, t lest in prt, to reduction in the volume of crime. Keywords: prison, incrcertion, imprisonment, sentencing Introduction While prison is n expensive nd, some rgue, reltively The second notble feture of Figure 1 is tht in mid-2009 the ineffective wy to respond to offending (Wetherburn, 2010) it prison popultion stopped rising. From tht time it ppers to hs been very populr in New South Wles. NSW hs the third hve stedied before flling in the pst yer. In the 29 months highest rte of imprisonment in Austrli behind the Northern from July 2009 to December 2011 the prison popultion Territory nd Western Austrli (Productivity Commission, decresed from 10,322 to 9,626, fll of 696 prisoners or ). Correspondingly, due to its lrge popultion, NSW percent. mnges the lrgest prison popultion in Austrli, ccounting The downturn in the prison popultion mrks discontinution for 35 percent of prisoners ntionlly nd close to double the of the consistent upwrd trend tht hs dominted the pst number mnged in the next lrgest jurisdiction. fifteen yers. This pper considers some of the fctors behind Figure 1 shows the trend in the NSW prison popultion since the recent decrese in the prison popultion, in prticulr: Jnury The most striking feture of this series is how Whether the fll is due to decrese in remnd nd/or much nd how stedily the prison popultion hs grown over sentenced prisoners lmost ll the fifteen yers shown. Between Jnury 1998 nd its pek in July 2009 the totl NSW prison popultion incresed Wht offence ctegories re showing the lrgest from 6,261 to 10,322 representing 65 percent increse. decreses in prisoner numbers 1 Corporte Reserch, Evlution nd Sttistics, Corrective Services NSW 1

2 Figure 1: Trends in NSW prison popultion by legl sttus; Jnury 1998 to December 2011 Prisoners 12,000 10,000 8,000 Remnd Sentenced Totl 6,000 4,000 2,000 0 Jn 98 Jul 98 Jn 99 Jul 99 Jn 00 Jul 00 Jn 01 Jul 01 Jn 02 Jul 02 Jn 03 Jul 03 Jn 04 Jul 04 Jn 05 Jul 05 Jn 06 Jul 06 Jn 07 Jul 07 Jn 08 Jul 08 Jn 09 Jul 09 Jn 10 Jul 10 Jn 11 Jul 11 Dec 11 Whether the fll is due to decrese in the number of offenders convicted nd/or the proportion of convicted offenders sentenced to prison, nd/or decrese in the verge length of prison sentences. Chnges in remnd nd sentenced prisoner popultions The prison popultion is comprised of two min subpopultions; remnd prisoners witing the finlistion of mtters t court, nd sentenced prisoners serving sentence of imprisonment. At ny one time, roughly qurter of the NSW prison popultion re remnd prisoners. The remnd nd sentenced prisoner popultions re governed by different fctors nd, s such, ny meningful nlysis of prison popultion trends needs to consider the two popultions seprtely. Figure 1 shows the trend in the remnd nd sentenced prisoner popultions, in ddition to the totl prisoner popultion. The figure shows tht the decrese in totl prisoner numbers hs resulted from decrese in sentenced prisoners. Between mid 2009 nd December 2011 the sentenced prisoner popultion decresed by close to 690 prisoners or 8.8 percent 1. Further evidence of the decrese in sentenced prisoners is evident in trends for sentenced prisoner receptions, which decresed by 15 percent over this sme period (from 8941 in to 7600 in , Corrective Services NSW, 2011). In contrst to the decrese in sentenced prisoners, over the sme period the remnd prisoner popultion incresed by 11.6 percent (close to 300 prisoners), reching its highest point of 2,852 remnd prisoners in June As the recent decrese in the prison popultion hs risen from decrese in sentenced prisoners, the rest of the pper will focus on trends in sentenced prisoners only. Chnges in the offence profile of sentenced prisoners Tble 1 compres the principl offence profile for sentenced prisoners in June 2009 nd June The lrgest decrese in sentenced prisoners ws for prisoners whose principl offence ws for Assult (Acts intended to cuse injury), followed by Trffc (Trffc nd vehicle regultory offences), Theft (Theft nd relted offences) nd Brek nd enter (Unlwful entry with intent/burglry, brek nd enter). These four offence ctegories lone ccounted for totl decrese of 486 prisoners. This result is supported by the sentenced prisoner reception figures (see Appendix). The fll in sentenced prisoner receptions for these four offence ctegories ccounted for 75 percent of the totl decrese in sentenced prisoner receptions over similr period. Tble 1 lso shows tht the decrese in sentenced prisoners ws not uniform cross offences ctegories, with some, such s Frud, deception nd relted offences (down 1.5%) nd Sexul ssults nd relted offences (down 0.1%), showing very little chnge. In fct, the number of sentenced prisoners in some offence ctegories incorporting more serious offences ctully incresed cross the period. For exmple, Homicide nd relted offences incresed by 5.1%, Robbery, extortion nd relted offences incresed by 3.8% nd Illicit drug offences incresed by 2.1%. These smll increses, however, were outweighed by the lrger decreses in the more common offence ctegories identified bove. Chnges in the number of offenders convicted The decreses in prisoners serving sentences for Assult, Trffc, Theft nd Brek nd enter offences could be result of 2

3 Tble 1. Principl offence for sentenced prisoners s t 30 June 2009 nd 30 June 2011 ASOC Ctegory of principl offence June 2009 June 2011 Chnge % Chnge % of totl decrese Homicide nd relted Acts Intended to Cuse Injury 1,290 1, Sexul Assult nd relted Dngerous or Negligent Acts Endng. Persons Abduction, Hrssment nd Relted Offences Robbery, Extortion nd relted Unlwful Entry With Intent/Burglry, B&E Theft nd relted Frud, Deception nd relted Illicit Drug Offences Wepons nd Explosives Property Dmge nd Environmentl Pollution Public Order Offences Trffc nd Vehicle Regultory Offences Offences Aginst Justice Procedures etc. 1, Miscellneous Offences TOTAL 7,756 7, Source: NSW Inmte Census 2009, 2011 dt file. fewer offenders being convicted of these offences or smller proportion of those convicted being given prison sentence. Tble 2 shows recent trends in the number of offenders convicted in NSW Locl nd District Courts for Assult, Trffc, Theft nd Brek nd enter offences over three seprte 12 month periods. The tble lso presents the totl number of offenders convicted of ny offence over these periods. Between April 2009 nd Mrch 2012, there were sizeble, sttisticlly significnt decreses in the number of offenders convicted in ll four offence ctegories. The totl number of offenders found guilty over the period decresed (down 13%) nd the decrese in the four selected offences ccounted for 73 percent of tht decrese. Trffic offences (down 19.2%) nd Brek nd enter (down 15.3%) showed the most mrked decrese in convictions. It is lso importnt to note the lrge differences between the number of convictions cross the offence ctegories. For exmple, the 19.2 percent decline in convictions for Trffc offences represents decrese of more thn 9300 offenders compred to the decrese of 294 offenders represented by the 15.3 percent fll in offenders convicted of Brek nd enter offences. Chnges in the percentge of offenders sentenced to prison Tble 3 shows the proportion of offenders convicted in NSW Locl or District Courts who were sentenced to imprisonment for the selected offences over the three yer period from April 2009 to Mrch Within the offence ctegories tht contributed most to the decrese in sentenced prisoners, two hve shown reductions in the use of imprisonment. Tble 2. Number of offenders found guilty of selected offences, NSW Locl nd District Courts Number of offenders found guilty Offence ctegory Apr Mr 2010 Apr Mr 2011 Apr Mr yer trend Assult 16,734 16,243 15,753 Down 5.9% Brek nd enter 1,917 1,587 1,623 Down 15.3% Theft 6,451 5,958 5,806 Down 10.0% Trffc 48,722 42,573 39,367 Down 19.2% Totl (ll offences) b 117, , ,892 Down 13.0% offenders who were found guilty nd who pleded guilty b ll offences, not just those presented in the tble 3

4 Tble 3: Percentge of guilty offenders sentenced to imprisonment for selected offence ctegories, NSW Locl nd District Courts Offence ctegory Apr Mr 2010 Apr Mr 2011 Apr Mr yer trend Assult Down 11.7% Brek nd enter Stble Theft Down 15.2% Trffc Stble Totl (ll offences) Stble ll offences, not just those presented in the tble Tble 4. Men sentence length (months) for offenders sentenced to imprisonment for selected offence ctegories, NSW Locl nd District Courts Offence ctegory Apr Mr 2010 Apr Mr 2011 Apr Mr yer trend Assult Down 13.0% Brek nd enter Down 11.1% Theft Stble Trffc Down 7.2% Totl (ll offences) Down 5.5% ll offences, not just those presented in the tble Tble 5. Summry of conviction nd imprisonment outcomes for selected offences Offence ctegory Sentenced prisoners Offenders found guilty b sentenced to prison b Sentence length b Percent of offenders Assult Down 15.0% Down 5.9% Down 11.7% Down 13.0% Brek nd enter Down 9.2% Down 15.3% Stble Down 11.1% Theft Down 22.6% Down 10.0% Down 15.2% Stble Trffc Down 31.0% Down 19.2% Stble Down 7.2% compres prison popultion t June 2009 with June 2011 b compres court dt from April 2009 to Mrch 2012 The proportion of offenders convicted of Theft who were imprisoned fell by 15.2 percent between 2009 nd 2012 while the proportion convicted of Assult fell by 11.7 percent. Such chnges my reflect decrese in the seriousness of offences rther thn simply move towrds more lenient sentencing. Chnges in sentence length Tble 4 shows the trend in men prison sentence imposed for the selected offence ctegories in the three yers to Mrch 2012 s well s the overll trend for ll offences. Tble 4 shows tht sentence lengths within three of the four offence ctegories (nd Totl ll offences) trended down over the three yer period. The men sentence length fell for Assult (down 13.0%), Brek nd enter (down 11.1%) nd Trffc offences (down 7.2%). Shorter prison sentences could, in prt, explin the decrese in prisoners s prisoners re held in prison for shorter periods. For exmple, in prisoners sentenced for Assult were sentenced to n verge 6.9 months in prison, compred to only 6.0 months for those sentenced in Agin, whether these results reflect chnges in sentencing or in the seriousness of offences is unble to be determined here. Summrising the chnges Tble 5 summrises the overll trends in conviction, imprisonment nd sentence length for the offence ctegories which showed the most significnt decrese in sentenced prisoner numbers. The tble indictes tht the decrese in sentenced prisoners cnnot be explined by re single trend in convictions or outcomes. One key fctor contributing to the decrese, however, ppers to be tht the number of offenders found guilty fell significntly for ech of the four offences considered. In ddition 4

5 to tht decrese, ech of the four offence ctegories considered showed generl reduction in the use of imprisonment s penlty, whether in the form of fewer offenders being sentenced to imprisonment (s ws the cse for Assult nd Theft offences) or in the form of shorter verge prison sentences (s ws the cse for Assult, Brek nd enter nd Trffic offences). Conclusion Between July 2009 nd December 2011 the dult sentenced prisoner popultion in NSW decresed by 8.8 percent or close to 690 prisoners. Comprison of the popultions between these points in time reveled tht the prison popultion hs fllen in lrge prt becuse fewer prisoners re serving sentences for (in order) Assult (Acts intended to cuse injury), Trffc (Trffc nd vehicle regultory offences), Theft (Theft nd relted offences) nd Brek nd enter (Unlwful entry with intent/burglry, brek nd enter) offences. Anlysis of conviction nd sentence dt suggests tht the sentenced prisoner popultion hs decresed in these offence ctegories minly due to the combintion of decrese in the number of offenders being proven guilty for these offences, decreses in the proportion of offenders being sentenced to full-time imprisonment (for Assult nd Theft) nd decreses in the men sentence imposed for Assult, Brek nd enter nd Trffc offences. As noted bove, it is importnt to note tht reductions in the use of imprisonment, either s the proportion of offenders imprisoned or s reduction in sentence length, do not necessrily indicte reduction in severity of penlties imposed by courts. Although we hve looked t chnges in penlties cross brod ctegories of offence, substntil chnges in offence seriousness cn occur within prticulr ctegory. This is prticulrly true of Assult offences, where the seriousness (nd resulting penlty) cn vry gretly. It is possible, therefore, tht it ws chnges to the nture nd/or seriousness of offences within these ctegories tht re reflected in the chnge in court outcomes rther thn more lenient justice system response to them. Sentencing options relting to full-time custody were lso been mended over the period of study. From October 2010 sentences of imprisonment my no longer be served by wy of periodic detention. At the sme time new sentencing option (the Intensive Correction Order or ICO) ws introduced s n lterntive to full-time custody (Crimes (Sentencing Legisltion) Amendment (Intensive Correction Orders) Act 2010). While the introduction of the ICO post-dtes the commencement of the decrese in sentenced prisoners, it is possible tht this legisltion my hve contributed to the on-going decrese in sentenced prisoners. However, more detiled reserch is required to determine if the new sentencing option hd some or ny effect on the decrese in the prison popultion. Lstly, the results bove indicte tht the decrese in sentenced prisoners resulted in prt from reduction in the number of convictions for specific ctegories of offences. This rises the question of whether the decrese in convictions is result of flling crime rtes. Recorded crime sttistics indicte tht there hs been reduction in three of the four offence ctegories identified bove. Compring the 12 months to Mrch 2009 with the 12 months to Mrch 2012 recorded crime rtes for fell for Assult (down 6,027 or 8.5%), Brek nd enter (down 10,401 or 15.7%) nd Theft (down 12,631 or 7.3%). Whilst the number of driving offences incresed (by 11,075 offences) only smll proportion of these offences result in imprisonment. The fll in crime is therefore lso likely to hve mde significnt contribution the decline in prison numbers. Notes 1. Note tht in September 2008 the NSW sentenced prisoner popultion included pproximtely 100 prisoners held on behlf of the Austrlin Cpitl Territory (ACT). Following the opening of the first ACT prison in September 2008, ll but very smll number of these ACT prisoners hd been trnsferred out of NSW prisons to the ACT. The ACT prisoners re included in Figure 1, however they hve been excluded from the more detiled nlyses tht follow. References Corben, S. (2009) NSW Inmte Census 2009: Summry of chrcteristics. Corrective Services Sttisticl Publiction No. 34. Corrective Services NSW, Sydney. Corben, S. (2011) NSW Inmte Census 2011: Summry of chrcteristics. Corrective Services Sttisticl Publiction No. 38. Corrective Services NSW, Sydney. Corrective Services NSW (2011) Sttisticl Report Corrective Services NSW, Sydney (Tble 11 p.17) Productivity Commission (2012) Report on Government Services, Productivity Commission ( Wetherburn, D. (2010) The effect of prison on dult re-offending (Crime nd Justice Bulletin No. 143). NSW Bureu of Crime Sttistics nd Reserch, Sydney. 5

6 Appendix Tble A1. Trends in sentenced prisoner receptions for selected offences, to Offence ctegory Totl decrese ( to ) Percent of totl decrese Percent decrese in this ctegory Assult 2,074 1,838 1, Brek nd enter Theft Trffc Totl (ll offences) 8,914 8,424 7,600-1, Source: Corrective Services NSW dtfile. Sentenced prisoner receptions is count of prisoners commencing unique episode of imprisonment under sentence. NSW Bureu of Crime Sttistics nd Reserch - Level 8, St Jmes Centre, 111 Elizbeth Street, Sydney Ph: (02) Fx: (02) ISBN Stte of New South Wles through the Deprtment of Attorney Generl nd Justice You my copy, distribute, disply, downlod nd otherwise freely del with this work for ny purpose, provided tht you ttribute the Deprtment of Attorney Generl nd Justice s the owner. However, you must obtin permission if you wish to () chrge others for ccess to the work (other thn t cost), (b) include the work in dvertising or product for sle, or (c) modify the work.

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