Serious Offenders Now Spending Longer in Prison

Media Release

Embargoed until 00:01 a.m. (AEST) Tuesday 13 September 2022

A review of sentencing data from the last 20 years reveals that courts in Victoria are now more likely to send offenders to prison for serious offences and that those offenders are getting longer sentences.

The latest report from the Sentencing Advisory Council looks at publicly available data on some of the most serious offences covered by its Sentencing Snapshots to examine long-term trends in the number of people sentenced for serious offences, the proportion of those people sentenced to prison, and the lengths of prison sentences imposed.

Three key findings emerge from the analysis of four offence categories (homicide offences, serious violent offences, serious drug offences and serious sex offences):

  1. Fewer serious offences are being sentenced in Victoria each year. For example, the number of serious injury offences sentenced has dropped from 170 to 48, which corresponds with a decline in the number of serious injury offences recorded by police each year, from 2,167 to 470.
  2. A greater proportion of offenders are sentenced to prison now than 20 years ago. For example, the imprisonment rate for cultivating a commercial quantity of narcotic plants has increased steadily from 67% in 2003 to almost 100% over the last five years.
  3. Offenders are receiving longer prison sentences today than they were 20 years ago. For example, people sentenced for murder in 2002 received an average prison sentence of 19.5 years, and that increased steadily to an average of 24.5 years in 2020. Similarly, people sentenced for incest now receive an average of almost 10 years in prison compared to 6 years in 2003.

The Council has been producing Sentencing Snapshots since 2005, with some data going back as far as 1998. Almost all of the Council’s 270+ Snapshots detail how the higher courts (the County and Supreme Courts) have dealt with a certain offence in the most recent five years.

Quotes Attributable to Council Chair Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg AM

‘Victoria’s prison population has more than doubled in recent years, much of which is attributable to changes in Victoria’s bail and parole laws. The findings of this new report suggest there is also another explanation: people are spending longer in prison for serious offences. This is almost certainly because courts are responding to a raft of legislative reforms as well as changing community attitudes.’

The report, Long-Term Sentencing Trends in Victoria, will be available on the Council’s website on the morning of Tuesday 13 September 2022.