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Theoretical Analysis on the Upwards Trend of Incarceration

1637 words (7 pages) Essay in Sociology

23/09/19 Sociology Reference this

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Theoretical analysis on the upwards trend of incarceration

The goal of the prison system, in first world countries is to serve several important functions for the betterment of our society, these functions being the deterrence of crime, punishment for offenders of crime, the protection of the community and finally the rehabilitation of the offender (Findlay., Odgers., Yeo. 2014).According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, the rate of property and violent crime victimization has decreased drastically, a trend that has continued over the course of the last five years (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2016) and these trends are common in other first world countries such as the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom.  However, even though there has been this considerable decrease in victimization, there has been a significant increase in our prison population with a total of 43,018 prisoners under the states custodial care. It is this trend of upwards incarceration, that this paper will attempt to provide a theoretical analysis. It will do this by examining three potential driving factors of increased incarceration which are an increase in the remanded prisoner population, changes to governmental policy and the increase of female prisoners in the custodial system. Whilst Australia does not have a prison population that is anywhere close to the population of the United States, Australia’s prison population is still at an alarming rate.

Australia’s prison population, like Australia is made up of diverse cultural groups and it is important for individuals to understand the trends and demographics that make up our corrections system. The first trend that will be examined is the rate of incarceration, where as of June 2018 there were 42,974 prisoners, an increase of 1,772 prisoners (or four percent) from June 2017 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018b). This increase of prisoners affected the national imprisonment rate, which increased from 216 individuals under state custodial care to 221 prisoners per 100,000 of the adult population (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018b).According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the most common charges for prisoners charged from 2017-2018, where acts intended to cause injury (22% of offenders), illicit drug offences (16%), sexual assault and related offences (12%) and unlawful entry with intent (10%) (2018b). Not only were there these increases, but there was an increase of five percent of offenders who identified as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person, bringing their representation of the Australian prison population to a total of 28% (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018b). Interestingly, individuals who identified as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, were less statistically likely to be incarcerated for drug related crimes, with less than 5% of incarcerated Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islander individuals being incapacitated for drug crimes compared to 20% of non-indigenous (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018b). An important factor to observe, is the increase of unsentenced prisoners, whom increased by seven percent (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018b).

 One causal factor that should always be examined when looking at the increase of prison population is the steadily growing number of prisoners held in remand. According to Sarre, King and Bamford remanding an individual is a serious matter, with persons on remand being granted the presumption of innocence until they are proven guilty, however, are placed in the custodial care of the state because they have been refused bail (2006). As of 2018, the most common charges for prisoners held in remand were sexual assault, illicit drug offences such as trafficking and supply and acts intending to cause injury to another (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018b). There is evidence from the United Kingdom which shows us that the population of unsentenced prisoners awaiting trial is more likely to be made up of homeless individuals, persons suffering from a mental illness or mental disorder and individuals whom do not have employment (Morgan., Henderson 1998). According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the national rate of unsentenced prisoners in adult corrective services increased by a total of seven percent, with Victoria having the largest rate of unsentenced prisoners, increasing by a total of twenty-two percent (2018b).

According to Sarre, King and Bamford there are factors that contribute to an increase in the remanded population; the first of which is the change of volume of persons appearing before the courts, from increasing crime rates or changes in apprehension practices (2006). Another factor that increases the remand population is the change in bail practices and social policies that make it more difficult to approve a bail application; changes in defendant characteristics that are more likely to make custodial remand occur, such as violent tendencies (Sarre., King., Bamford. 2006). Whilst there has been a massive increase in the rate of remanded prisoners, it is important to understand that remand has several important functions in the criminal justice system; to uphold the integrity and credibility of the criminal justice system, the protection of our community and to protect the rights and personal safety of the defendant as the await trial (Sarre., King., Bamford., 2006).

An important consequence of changing governmental policy that relates to the criminal justice system is how it changes the way we view criminal acts and ultimately the number of individuals held in custody. Such examples of governmental policy that has led to an increase of incarceration rates (specifically in the United States of America) is the introduction of mandatory sentencing laws, which are becoming common place in states around the USA, and in New South Wales (where minimum sentencing has recently been written into legislation for certain crimes). Mandatory sentencing refers to a fixed penalty for prescribed by the state or commonwealth parliament and whilst it can be applied to any penalty in the criminal justice system such as fines, it usually involves a fixed term of imprisonment (Gelb., Hoel. 2008). The purpose of this mandatory sentencing is to act as a method of crime prevention in the sense that offenders have the opportunity to reoffend removed for a longer period of time (Roche., 1999). Mandatory sentencing laws, which are designed to increase the severity of punishments for serious offences are partly responsible for increasing rates of incarceration in the United States, as certain offences would not have resulted in a prison sentence (Sorenson., Stemen. 2002). Governments have justified the use of minimum mandatory sentencing by stating that the harsher and fixed penalties teach offenders that the punishment for crime is always certain and severe (Gendreau., Cullen., Goggin. 1999). An excellent statistical example of the increases caused by mandatory minimum sentencing, are the sentencing laws that the United States attached to ‘the war on drugs’; the rate of incarceration increased from 15 adults to every 100,000 adults in custodial care to 148 adults to every 100,000 adults in custodial care (Conyers. 2012). Whilst it can be argued that these governmental policies are effective, it is impossible to ignore the effects that these laws have had on our prison system.

The concept of female criminality was not unique or even new with the appearance of Bonnie Parker in the twentieth century, yet it has taken the female population an extremely long time to gain representation in the criminal justice system, particularly in the corrections system. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of female prisoners had increased by 10%, from 3,299 prisoners to 3,625 prisoners, which equates to roughly 37 prisoners per 100,000 non-imprisoned female population.


  •                  Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2018)a. 4512.0 – Corrective Services, Australia, September quarter 2018. Retrieved from[email protected]/mf/4512.0
  •                  Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2018)b. 4517.0 – Prisoners in Australia, 2018. Retrieved from:[email protected]/Lookup/by%20Subject/4517.0~2016~Main%20Features~Key%20findings~1Australian Institute of Criminology. (2016). Australian crime: Facts & Figures:  2014. Retrieved from:
  •                  Brown, D. (2013). Looking behind the increase in custodial remand populations. International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 2(2), 80-99.
  •                  Conyers Jr, J. (2012). The incarceration explosion. Yale L. & Pol’y Rev., 31, 377.
  •                  Findlay, M., Odgers, S., & Yeo, S. (2014). Australian criminal justice. Oxford University Press. 200-210 .Retrieved from
  •                  Gendreau, P., Cullen, F. T., & Goggin, C. (1999). The effects of prison sentences on recidivism (pp. 4-5). Ottawa, Ontario: Solicitor General Canada.
  •                  Morgan P M & Henderson P F 1998. Remand decisions and offending on bail: evaluation of the Bail Process Project. Home Office Research Study 184. London: Home Office
  •                  Sarre R, King S & Bamford D. 2006. Remand in custody : critical factors and key issues. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice No. 310. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.
  •                  Sorensen, J., & Stemen, D. (2002). The effect of state sentencing policies on incarceration rates. Crime & Delinquency, 48(3), 456-475.
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