Victoria's Imprisonment Rates

The absolute size of Victoria’s prison population nearly quadrupled between 1871 and 2015. Despite this, the imprisonment rate actually declined. This decrease in the rate is substantially due to population growth. However, it has been influenced by the number and length of imprisonment terms imposed by the courts.

Precise figures are not available for Victoria’s imprisonment rate in the early 1800s, but it is estimated to have reached over 400 prisoners per 100,000 people (Freiberg and Ross, 1999). More reliable figures first became available in 1871, when the imprisonment rate was 210 per 100,000 people. By the early 1970s, it had declined substantially to below 50 prisoners per 100,000 people.

Between 1909 and 1974, the imprisonment rate stabilised at between 50 and 70 prisoners per 100,000 people, with the exception of three periods:

  • following the end of World War I (1918) and during the time of the 1918–19 influenza pandemic, the imprisonment rate dropped below 50 prisoners per 100,000 people
  • during the 1920s and 1930s, the imprisonment rate increased rapidly to a high of 82 prisoners per 100,000 people in 1932
  • for the three years following the end of World War II (1945), the imprisonment rate fell below 50 prisoners per 100,000 people, a level it would not return to until 1975.

After a historic low rate of 38 prisoners per 100,000 people in 1977, the imprisonment rate has shown a continual upward trend. In 2015, it reached 105 prisoners per 100,000 people, the highest rate for Victoria in modern times.

Graph: the imprisonment rate (per 100,000 people) for Victoria from 1871 to 2015, measuring the number of prisoners per 100,000 people of all ages

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A. Freiberg and S. Ross, Sentencing Reform and Penal Change: The Victorian Experience (The Federation Press, 1999)

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Prisoners in Australia, Cat. No. 4517.0 (2015)

Corrections Victoria, Monthly Prisoner and Offender Statistics: 2015–16 (2016) Table 1.12

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015), Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2015, Cat. No. 3101.0

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