After steadily increasing for more than a decade, from mid 2009 the NSW prison population started falling. This paper identifies why this has occurred.
Method: The study relied upon administrative data. Corrections data was considered to gauge the size, timing and nature of changes in the prison population. Police recorded crime and court data were analysed to measure changes in offending and sentencing which eventually have a bearing on prison numbers.
Results: Corrections data showed that the decrease in the prison population was limited to sentenced prisoners and was driven by a reduction in the number of offenders serving sentences for Assault, Break and enter, Theft and Traffic offences. Break and enter, Theft and Assault, prisoners appear to have decreased, in part, because the incidence of these offences have fallen. There have also been moves away from the use of imprisonment as a penalty for each of the four offences whether because fewer offenders are being imprisoned or because the average sentence length has fallen.
Conclusion: In 2011, fewer offenders were serving prison sentences for Assault, Break and enter, Theft and Traffic offences. This appears to be due to both a reduction in the number of offenders in court and changes in sentencing practices for certain offences. It is beyond the scope of this paper to ascertain whether changes in sentencing practice reflect a move towards more lenient sentencing or whether they have resulted from changes in the severity of offences themselves. The reduction in the number of offenders for some offences appears to be due, at least in part, to a reduction in the volume of crime.