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Unprecedented Increase in Remand Population in NSW

While overall prisoner numbers are falling, the number of people being held awaiting trial has skyrocketed.

There were 12,091 adults in NSW prisons last December—1,544 fewer than four years previously—but remand numbers have headed in the opposite direction, reaching a record 5,055 in the same month.

That means four in every 10 people locked up in the state have not been found guilty, up from 34 percent in 2019. But at the same time, fewer people are serving prison sentences after conviction due to the introduction of non-custodial alternatives.

The time spent on remand was steady at around 90 days, but an increase in the number of charges had increased the population of remand prisoners, whereas changes allowing more people to serve their sentence in the community drove a 22 percent fall in the number of sentenced prisoners.

The statistics were released by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR).

Executive Director Jackie Fitzgerald said the disparity was due to police being “increasingly inclined to charge for … offences” such as domestic violence assaults, which were up by 201 in December compared with the 2019 figures, an increase of more than 33 percent.

Offending Increases in Multiple Categories

“There actually are more domestic assaults coming to police attention and we are seeing more of those translate into legal action,” said Ms. Fitzgerald.

In addition, sexual offences were up 25 percent, non-domestic assault by 11 percent, intimidation/stalking by 30 percent, and weapons offences by 47 percent. Those falling into these categories were more likely to result in charges as authorities moved to keep people out of prison.

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She said the change to allow more community-based sentences was “a conscious decision with regards to what kind of sentencing paradigm is more likely to be beneficial in terms of re-offending.”

Conversely, a change to bail laws introduced in 2022 meant people convicted of an offence that was likely to result in imprisonment would not receive bail before sentencing unless they were able to show exceptional circumstances.

Bail decisions needed scrutiny, Ms Fitzgerald said. “It is definitely a change in the administration of justice in NSW … a lot of people are not at liberty because of those bail decisions, more than ever before.”

People ‘Sucked into the Prison System’: Law Lecturer

Senior lecturer in crime and justice at La Trobe University, Emma Russell, said people charged with relatively minor offences were now being refused bail and likely sentenced with “time served” when their cases finally come before the courts.

“All these people … are now getting sucked into the prison [system],” she said.

The president of the Law Council of Australia, Luke Murphy, pointed out that the housing crisis was exacerbating the number of bail refusals in all jurisdictions, as the courts are unlikely to grant bail to persons charged with an offence who do not have an address.

The 12,091 adults in custody in NSW in December was 1,544 fewer than in 2019; there were 174 youths in custody compared to 170 at the end of 2022.

AAP contributed to this report.

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