On 30 June 2020, Victoria’s prison population was 7,149, a drop of 11.8% from the previous year. This is the largest annual decrease in the number of prisoners in the history of Victoria’s prison population. The decrease is most likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused delays in court proceedings from March 2020 onward and may have also influenced sentencing dispositions.
Between 1871 and 2020, Victoria’s prison population increased fourfold, but it fluctuated significantly, sometimes influenced by major world events.
The prison population declined from a peak of 1,901 in 1891 to a low of 635 in 1919. This followed World War I and the influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919. The prison population then climbed during the next decade, peaking at 1,488 in 1932, before falling again to 912 in 1948, shortly after the end of World War II.
The prison population did not surpass its previous high in 1891 until 1962. From then it continued climbing to a new high of 2,389 in 1971. This was followed by a sharp decline over the next six years, during which the prison population dropped by 38% to 1,488 in 1977. Since then, it continually increased until 2020.
Unsentenced and Sentenced Prisoners
The percentage of unsentenced prisoners in Victoria’s prisons increased from 13.1% in 1977 to over 34.6% in 2020, when there were 2,479 unsentenced prisoners. Unsentenced prisoners include those who are unconvicted awaiting a court hearing or trial, awaiting sentence and awaiting deportation.
In 2020, the number of sentenced prisoners was 4,664 (65.2%) and the number of post-sentence prisoners was 4 (0.1%). Sentenced prisoners include those who have been sentenced to prison and have no appeal current, are awaiting an appeal, are unfit to plead and are not guilty on grounds of insanity. Post-sentence prisoners are detained in prison after completing their custodial sentence.
Number of people in Victoria’s prisons, 1871 to 2020
Hover over the lines in the graph to display the number of people imprisoned, sentenced and unsentenced for each year. Use the range slider below the graph to zoom in on specific years. Double-click on the graph to reset.
Sources: A. Freiberg and S. Ross, Sentencing Reform and Penal Change: The Victorian Experience (The Federation Press, 1999); Australian Bureau of Statistics, Prisoners in Australia, 2020, cat. no. 4517.0 (2020); Australian Institute of Criminology, Australian Prison Trends (1993).
Notes: The sentenced and unsentenced prisoner numbers may not sum to the total prisoner number because the total includes post-sentenced prisoners. Additionally, the sum of component values may not equal the total due to statistical perturbation used (for confidentiality reasons) in the original data source (see the Explanatory Notes for Prisoners in Australia (2020)).
Prison population data for 1872, 1899 and 1900 is missing in the original source. The values given for these years are an average of the number of prisoners in the year immediately before and the year immediately after.
Unsentenced prisoners are referred to as ‘remandees’ in Australian Prison Trends (1993).