Aim: To explain the rapid rise in the NSW prison population over the five years from 2011 to 2015.
Methods: Descriptive analysis of court, police and prison data. Kendall’s tau was used to test for significant change in trend data.
Results: Between June 2011 and September 2015, the number of people in NSW prisons increased from 10,000 to 11,801, a rise of 18 per cent. Both sentenced and remand prisoner populations were affected. As of September 2015, the remand population stood at 3,597. This is 975 remand prisoners more than were in custody in September 2011. The sentenced prisoner population in September 2015 stood at 8,204. This is 1,023 more sentenced prisoners than were in custody in September 2011. The growth in the number of persons entering remand is likely due to four factors: (a) an increase in the number of people proceeded against by police for offences where bail refusal is likely (b) an increase in the number of persons proceeded against by police for breach of bail (c) an increase in the time spent in custody on remand and (d) (possibly) an increase in the likelihood of bail refusal. The cause of the increase in time spent on remand is not known for certain at this stage but it may be related to a growth in the backlog of trial cases in the NSW District Criminal Court. The increase in the sentenced prisoner population is entirely due to an increase in the number of sentenced prisoners received into custody. There is no evidence that non-parole periods are getting longer. The increase in the number of sentenced prisoners is partly due to the fact that the percentage of convicted offenders given a prison sentence has risen for a large number of offences and partly due to the fact that police are more often initiating criminal proceedings against offenders who, if convicted, are likely to be imprisoned.
Conclusion: The increase in the prison population is partly a consequence of changes in the way the courts respond to suspected or convicted offenders and partly a consequence of an increase in the number of people charged by police with serious offences.