Prison population up 10,000 in 10 years

Prison population rises - Newsreel
Australia's prison population has jumped more than 10,000 in a decade | Photo: Southern Agency (iStock)

Australia’s prison population has jumped by more than 10,000 in a decade off the back of a tougher stance on crime.

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics this week place Australia’s prison population at 41,929 in 2023.

This was 35 percent higher than the 2013 prison population (30,773). The big rise was despite falls in imprisonment rates recorded during the early COVID-19 years.

Male prisoners far outnumbered women in 2023 at 38,757 compared with 3168.

The figures are consistent with the 2021 Productivity Commission report on criminal activity which found that prison rates were increasing but crime was falling.

“It’s a complex story,” Commissioner Stephen King said at the time. “There is no single reason why imprisonment has been increasing, but what we know is that ‘tough on crime’ policies have been a contributing factor.”

“This costs the taxpayer a lot but is not necessarily creating a safer society.”

The Productivity Commission report said that prisons were costing Australian taxpayers more than $5 billion per year, or more than $330 per prisoner per day.

In 2023, there were 1758 murderers behind bars and 4793 prisoners convicted of assault crimes.

High levels of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders remained an issue.

Between 2022 and 2023, the number of indigenous prisons increased by seven percent and this group account for 33 percent of all prisoners.

“After accounting for population growth, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rate increased by five percent from 2330 to 2442 prisoners per 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adult population,” the ABS said.

“At 30 June 2023, 91 percent (12,540) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners were male and nine percent (1309) were female. The median age was 33.2 years and 78 percent (10,828) had experienced prior adult imprisonment.”

So-called white-collar criminals made up a relatively small proportion of the prison population.

Only 419 people were in jail nationally for fraud, 94 of them in Queensland.

Sexual assault accounted for 4221 prisoners and 3345 were in jail for drug offences.

More details are on the ABS website.