By Numbers: The Australian Prison System

'By Numbers' is a recurring feature that appears in our print magazine – where we use numbers in a snapshot way to try and reveal the true breadth and depth of an issue. This ‘By Numbers' on the Australian Prison System, using the most recent data available at that time, was originally published in March 2017 in Issue 33 of our print magazine.



Number of adult prisoners nationwide: 38,845
Of female prisoners: 3,094
Percentage by which Indigenous women are more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous women: 21.6%
Number of Australian Prisons: 101
Year Borallon Correction Centre, the first private prison in Australia, opened in Queensland: 1990
Increase in Australia’s prison population since 1990: 171.5%
Number of privately owned and operated prisons run by private contractors (the GEO Group, G4S, Serco) today: 9
Percentage of prisoners in private prisons: 18.5% (the highest per capita in the world)
Penalty fee set by NSW government for prison operators following a death in custody: $100,000
Average daily cost of incarcerating a prisoner: $224
Annual net operating expenditure on corrective services nationwide: $3.7 billion
Percentage of adult prisoners who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander: 27%
Of offenders in juvenile detention: 59%
Percentage of adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders within the total population of Australia: 2%
Percentage of prisoners previously incarcerated: 50%
Of Indigenous prisoners: 76%
Australian prison population awaiting sentence: 1/3
Number of prisoner deaths from unnatural causes in 2015: 17
Of Indigenous prisoners: 4
Estimated number of deaths since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody: 340
Proportion of prison entrants whose highest year of completed schooling was below Year 10: 32%
Of Indigenous prison entrants: 40%
Percentage of eligible prisoners participating in education and training courses: 31.6% Number of full-time teachers’ jobs cut from NSW jails in 2016: 132
The number of escapes from secure prisons: 3
Proportion of prison entrants who were unemployed in the month prior to imprisonment: 48%
Who were homeless: 25%
Proportion of prison entrants who had one or more of their parents/carers imprisoned while they were a child: 17%
Of Indigenous prison entrants: 26%
Proportion of prison entrants who have children who depend on them for their basic needs: 46%
Who have been told by a medical practitioner that they have a mental health disorder, including drug and alcohol abuse: 49%
Who have ever intentionally harmed themselves: 23%
Who, in the last 12 months, consulted with a medical professional while imprisoned: 57%
Who needed to consult with a health professional while imprisoned but did not: 15%
Who, on release, have a referral or appointment to see a health professional: 50%



Sources: The Australian Bureau of Statistics ‘Prisoners In Australia, 2016’ report; the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s ‘The Health of Australia’s prisoners 2015’; Chapter 8 of the Australian Government Productivity Commission’s ‘Report on Government Services 2016’; The Guardian’s reports on Ms Dhu’s inquest; ‘Schedule 8: Key Performance Indicators and Performance Linked Fee’ of Corrective Services NSW’s contracts for working with CSWNSW; Right Now, ‘Private Prisons in Australia: Our 20 year trial’; ABC News ‘NSW teachers rally outside Parliament over cuts to jail jobs’.


The final report of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory was handed down last Friday, 17 November.