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Estimates: Data related to incarceration rates

Estimates & Committees
Penny Wright 18 Nov 2013

Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee 
Australian Government Solicitor 

18 November, 2013

Senator WRIGHT: I have some questions about the availability of certain types of data and, if it is available, where it is to be found. Does the institute collect figures that show the total national number of people received into prison each year? I will give you the background of what I want there. Do the figures show receptions over the course of the year, as opposed to a one-day census?

Dr Tomison: That is a good question. One of the outcomes of the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody was that the AIC would conduct a five-yearly census of the number in corrections. That was based around an August census every five years. So for one month the AIC would run a census study to try and determine who was in custody and why. At the moment we are actually in the process of changing that piece of research. In the last few years the data collected by corrections has improved quite a lot, electronic records have improved quite a lot, and it is now possible to get a broad based set of data on an annual basis from corrections agencies. The AIC in the last six months has written to all corrective services agencies around the country, asking them to change the census survey into an annual monitoring program which would be collected probably biennially or triennially. At the moment we are still negotiating access to that data, but the intention is that that will be what happens going forward. So all I can say to you is that we have not seen that data yet, but we do know, from a number of negotiations with the corrective services agencies, that the data is available. The intention is to pilot with one or two states and territories and create a national set of data, over the next year or so, as best we can. So it is really a matter of watching this space.

Senator WRIGHT: Does there seem to be any resistance from any particular states and territories to that—either because they do not collect the statistics that you need or because of a lack of willingness to do that? Obviously it is going to rely on bringing together the data from all of the states and territories to be accurate.

Dr Tomison: We run a number of national monitoring programs, and the same issues apply to all. What we are going to do is start small in the sense that we are going to ask for a broad set of data—essentially, some very broad numbers on the number of prisoners who are being kept in remand and who have already been sentenced. All jurisdiction should be able to provide that. And then we are going to use some of the bigger jurisdictions to tease down to more specific sets of data and to see what is able to be provided fairly easily by the corrective services agencies. No state or territory has indicated that they are against the idea; some have some concerns about the ability to resource the project—and that is fair enough—but at this point in time it is going forward and, step by step, we are going to create that program.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you for that. I am open to being advised whether those figures would show receptions over the course of a year. It seems to me it is unlikely that you would be able to get a one-day census, because that would rely on that data being available for every state and territory on a particular date.

Dr Tomison: We had the August census based police custody survey, and we found that was pretty much lacking; it did not give a good picture of what was going on. So we are actually aiming for annual data.

Senator WRIGHT: Clearly then that data would be able to be disaggregated by state and territory, because that is where you would be getting the data from in the first place.

Dr Tomison: Correct.

Senator WRIGHT: Essentially that was about the national number of prison receptions. I am also interested—and I think you have partly answered this in your answer—in having data about the number of people received into prison on remand each year and the national number of parole revocations each year. Is that something you would envisage is part of that aim or project? That is obviously data that is not yet available nationally.

Dr Tomison: Figures on remand will simply be part of the program, is my understanding. The parole revocations, I expect, will probably build to that. I cannot say that we will have it in the first year of data collection, but I think we will try to get it. It is probably worth noting that the AIC released a report today looking at the use of remand for young people in detention. Actually, that just came out onto our website. You may be interested in seeing that.

Senator WRIGHT: Yes I would be, thank you very much.

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