This page considers punitive aspects of the Australian
It covers -
The Australian legal system aims to deter and punish offenders
through imprisonment in correctional facilities and through
penalties such as fines (ie the offender pays money to
the state) or withdrawal of licenses.
Criminological fashion has meant that in recent years
there has arguably been less lip-service to notions of
reforming offenders through an enforced stay in government
Despite populist agitation for "punishment that fits
the crime" - particular resonant at election time
- here has also been less noise about imprisonment as
a mechanism for ostensibly ensuring the safety of the
community by keeping some people off the streets or for
using incarceration as a covert social welfare mechanism
(ie dealing with the crime of poverty or homelessness
by parking the poor in correctional facilities on an overnight
or long-term basis).
Australian courts are able to sentence offenders to -
or long-term stays in a correctional facility
service and other forms of supervised work
behaviour bonds under supervision (eg the offender must
report to a police station on a daily or weekly basis)
imprisonment is on a part-time basis, with parents who
have been found guilty of non-violent offences for example
being released from custody at weekends.
Some people are held in custody prior to hearing or sentencing
by a court, with unsentenced offenders often being held
on remand in correctional facilities or released on bail
(ie with some financial surety from themselves or a third
party such as a parent).
The Australian states and mainland territories all operate
prisons and other correctional facilities, typically independent
of that jurisdiction's police force services. The national
Government does not operate prisons or other corrective
services, with federal offenders (ie people convicted
of offences under Commonwealth law) being supervised by
state/territory correctional agencies. The various governments
usually maintain separate facilities for juvenile offenders.
As of mid-2006 there were 117 'custodial facilities' nationwide
3 government-operated community custodial facilities
periodic detention centres
14 '24-hour' court-cell centres.
that time there were 25,790 prisoners (sentenced and unsentenced),
of which 93% were men and 7% were women. The unsentenced
prisoners - 22% of the prisone population - included prisoners
awaiting a court hearing or trial and convicted prisoners
awaiting sentencing. In June 2008 there were 27,615 prisoners,
an imprisonment rate of 169 prisoners per 100,000 adults
As in comparable economies, substantial recidivism was
apparent, with 57% of the prisoners (unsentenced and sentenced)
having previously spent time in an adult prison.
Incarceration reflected -
and related offences - 2,584
intended to cause injury - 4,630
assault and related offences - 2,939
extortion and related offences - 2,598
entry with intent - 3,095
drug offences - 2,516
offences - 7,428
Homicide and related offences were similar for both men
(10% of the male prison population) and women (11%). Men
were more likely to be in prison for robbery, extortion
and sexual assault than women. Women were more likely
to be in custody for deception and illicit drug offences.
The average aggregate sentence length for prisoners sentenced
to a specific term was 59 months, with remissions and
parole for early release meaning that the average time
actually served was 41.4 months. 5% of all sentenced prisoners
were serving a life term or other indeterminate sentence.
Recent Australian sentencing policies have emphasised
'community based' correction strategies. In mid-2007 there
were around 52,226 people in community-based corrections,
with some 32,000 on sentenced probation, 10,280 on community
service and 9,750 on parole. Nearly half of periodic detainees
were sentenced for road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory
offences and acts intended to cause injury.
The prison population is weighted towards the young, less
educated and blue-collar (or no-collar) demographics.
The median age of male and female prisoners was 33 years,
with the majority aged 20 to 39 years. Prisoners aged
45 years and over were more likely to be in prison for
sexual assault offences (51% for prisoners aged 55 and
over and 22% for those aged 45-54).
As of mid-2006 there were 6,091 Indigenous prisoners (24%
of the prison population), a rate of incarceration 13
times more than that of non-Indigenous people. The average
sentence length of Indigenous prisoners was less than
that non-Indigenous prisoners (3.7 years compared with