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Why is the NSW Prison Population Falling?

NCJ Number
Jacqueline Fitzgerald; Simon Corben
Date Published
November 2012
6 pages
This study examined why the New South Wales (Australia) prison population started decreasing in mid-2009 after steadily increasing for more than a decade.
Between July 2009 and December 2011, the adult sentenced prisoner population in New South Wales (NSW) decreased by 8.8 percent or nearly 690 inmates. Corrections data show that the decrease in the prison population in NSW, beginning in mid-2009 was due to a drop in the number of inmates sentenced to prison for assault, break-and-enter, theft, and traffic offenses. This was caused primarily by a decrease in the number of offenders charged with these types of offenses. Comparing the 12 months to March 2009 with the 12 months to March 2012 shows that recorded crime rates declined for assault (down 8.5 percent), break-and-enter (down 15.7 percent), and theft (down 7.3 percent). Although the number of traffic offenses increased by 11,075 offenses, only a small proportion of these offenses result in imprisonment. There has also been a trend away from the use of imprisonment as a penalty for these four types of offenses. It is unclear as to whether this is because fewer offenders who have committed these types of crimes have been sentenced to alternatives other than incarceration or because the prison sentences have been shortened. It was beyond the scope of this study to determine whether changes in sentencing practice reflect a move toward more lenient sentencing or whether there has been a change in the severity of these offenses. The study relied on administrative data. Corrections data were used to determine the size, timing, and nature of changes in the prison population. Police recorded crime and court data were analyzed to measure changes in offending and sentencing that eventually influence the number of inmates. 6 tables and 5 references