Victoria's Imprisonment Rates

The absolute size of Victoria’s prison population almost quadrupled between 1871 and 2017. Despite this, the imprisonment rate actually declined, from 210 prisoners per 100,000 people in 1871 to 113 prisoners in 2017. This decrease in the rate is substantially due to an increase in the state’s population. It has also been influenced by the number and length of imprisonment terms imposed by the courts.

Although precise figures are not available, Victoria’s imprisonment rate in the early 1800s was estimated to have reached over 400 prisoners per 100,000 people. When more reliable figures first became available in 1871, the imprisonment rate was close to half that estimate. By the early 1970s, the imprisonment rate had declined substantially, to below 50 prisoners per 100,000 people.

Between 1909 and 1974, the imprisonment rate stabilised at 50 to 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 again 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 2017, it reached 113.1 prisoners per 100,000 people, a rate not seen in Victoria since 1896.

Note: The data in the graph measures the number of prisoners per 100,000 people of all ages.

Imprisonment rate per 100,000 people for Victoria from 1871 to 2017

Hover over the line in the graph to display the year, imprisonment rate and number of people imprisoned. Use the range slider below the graph to zoom in on specific years of the data. Double click on the graph to reset.

Sources: A. Freiberg and S. Ross (1999), Sentencing Reform and Penal Change: The Victorian Experience (The Federation Press); Australian Bureau of Statistics (2017), Prisoners in Australia, Cat. No. 4517.0 (external link opens in a new window).