Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2021. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Cat. no. PHE 221. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 28 October 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 24 September 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2021 Oct. 28]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, viewed 28 October 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
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The criminal justice system comprises 3 parts, the police (investigative element), courts (adjudicative element) and correctional services (corrective element). Information on alcohol and other drug use from each section of the criminal justice system is presented below.
The consumption of alcohol and other drugs remains more prevalent among people in contact with the criminal justice system than the general population
Prison entrants in 2018 were more likely than the general population to be non-drinkers, however those who did drink were more likely to drink at high risk levels than people in the general community
In 2018, more than two-thirds (67%) of prison entrants smoked tobacco daily
Two-thirds (65%) of prison entrants in 2018 reported using illicit drugs in the 12 months before incarceration
In 2019, 33% of police detainees indicated that illicit drug use contributed to their offending
Over three-quarters (78%) of police detainees who provided a urine sample in 2019 tested positive for at least one drug type
View the People in contact with criminal justice systems fact sheet >
Illicit drug offences (74,443 offenders) and acts intended to cause injury (78,523 offenders) were the most common principal offences nationally in 2019–20. The number of illicit drug offenders decreased by 4% (2,765 offenders) between 2018–19 and 2019–20 (ABS 2021b). Over two-thirds (68%) of illicit drug offenders were charged with the principal offence of 'possess and/or use illicit drugs' (ABS 2021b).
Data from Criminal Courts, Australia for 2019–20 showed that, excluding organisations and transfers to other court levels, most defendants had their offences finalised in the Magistrates’ Courts (91%, or 427,815 defendants).
The introduction of COVID-19 restrictions in March 2020 led to the deferral of some cases and temporary court closures nationwide, which affected the number of defendants finalised in Criminal Courts. This should be taken into account when comparing the 2019–20 reference period with earlier years.
A snapshot of the adult (aged 18 and over) prison population at 30 June 2020 showed that there were 41,060 prisoners in Australia. This represents 202 prisoners per 100,000 adult population and is a 7% decrease from 2019 (ABS 2020).
On an average day in 2019–20, 5,323 young people aged 10 and over were under youth justice supervision. A total of 10,222 young people were supervised at some time during the year, down from 11,056 in 2015–16 (AIHW 2021b). On an average day in 2019–20, most young people under supervision (4,490, or 84%) were supervised in the community. However, around 1 in 6 (863, or 16%) were in detention and some were supervised in both the community and detention on the same day. In 2019–20, data collection included a period (March–June 2020) after COVID-19 restrictions were introduced in Australia. Data may not be comparable to previous years (AIHW 2021b).
From 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2016, young people aged 10–17 under youth justice supervision were 30 times as likely as the Australian population of the same age to receive alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment from publicly funded AOD treatment services (AIHW 2018).
The National Tobacco Strategy 2012–2018 recognises that prisoners have some of the highest levels of smoking and that smoking is common among groups that are often over-represented in the prison population (IGCD 2012). Recently, there have been a range of smoking bans introduced in Australian prisons and most correctional facilities are now smoke-free (DoH 2016).
Data from the National Prisoner Health Data Collection (NPHDC) showed that rates of smoking among prisoners is substantially higher than in the general community. In 2018:
In the general population, findings from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) showed that of people aged 14 and over:
The figure shows that 75% of prison entrants reported being a current smoker in 2018, and 67% reported being a daily smoker. These are higher proportions than for the general population, where 14.0% of people were current smokers and 11.0% were daily smokers in 2019. Conversely, prison entrants were less likely than the general population to be ex-smokers (10.0% compared with 22.8%) or never smokers (13.0% compared with 63.1%).
The risky consumption of alcohol has been found to be strongly associated with adverse outcomes including criminal offending (Fergusson, Boden & Horwood 2013).
The Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program is an ongoing monitoring program that captures information on illicit drug use among police detainees. Data from the 2020 DUMA indicate that alcohol consumption is common among police detainees.
Prison entrants in 2018 were more likely than the general population to be non-drinkers, however those that did drink were more likely to drink at high risk levels than people in the general community (refer to Box CRIM1 for information on how alcohol related harm is calculated for prison entrants). Specifically:
Prison entrants in the Northern Territory (60%) and Tasmania (40%) were the most likely to be at high-risk of alcohol-related harm, while those in South Australia (58%) and Queensland (35%) were the most likely to report that they do not drink (AIHW 2019) (Table S3.57).
The proportion of prison entrants who are at risk of alcohol-related harm as determined using questions on alcohol consumption from the WHO’s Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT) screening instrument. The AUDIT tool alcohol harm risk profile does not align with the alcohol risk guidelines and as such the results are not comparable to the general population (AIHW 2019).
It is commonly understood that there is a link between the use of illicit drugs and involvement in the criminal justice system. Illicit drug use has been identified as a primary motivating factor in non-violent property offences such as burglary and theft (Kopak & Hoffman 2014).
The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) collects national illicit drug arrest data annually from federal, state and territory police services to inform the Illicit Drug Data Report (IDDR). According to the 2018–19 IDDR, there were 153,377 national illicit drug arrests in 2018–19, a slight increase from 148,363 arrests in 2017–18. The number of national illicit drug arrests has increased 80% over the last decade (from 85,252 arrests in 2009–10) (ACIC 2020). Most (90.0%) of the national illicit drug arrests in 2018–19 were for consumer related offences, with the remainder related to provider (supply-type) offences (Figure CRIM2).
The figure shows that 90.0% of the national illicit drug arrests in 2018–19 were for consumer related offences, with the remainder related to provider offences. In 2018–19, most consumer (64,848) and provider (5,945) national illicit drug arrests were for cannabis.
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Information related to criminal activity and contact with the criminal justice system is collected as part of the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) for people who regularly use ecstasy or other stimulants and the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) for people who regularly inject illicit drugs.
Of the 2020 EDRS participants:
Of the 2020 IDRS participants:
Collection of crime data in 2020 took place during the COVID-19 restriction period between April and July 2020. Data that relate to the previous 6–12 months will reflect behaviours both pre and during the COVID-19 period.
Data from the DUMA program indicate that drug use is common among police detainees. In 2020, 47% of police detainees had used cannabis in the past month and 45% had used methamphetamine. Over 4 in 10 (41%) detainees who had used an illicit drug in the past month (including heroin, methamphetamine, cannabis and ecstasy) reported that drug use was the reason for their current detention (Voce & Sullivan 2021).
Among police detainees who provided a urine sample:
In 2020, urinalysis data were collected in Quarter 1 (January–February) only, prior to COVID-19 restrictions being introduced. This should be taken into account when comparing 2020 data with previous years.
The Health of Australia’s Prisoners 2018 reports that overall, two-thirds (65%) of prison entrants reported using illicit drugs in the 12 months before incarceration, with the most common drug being methamphetamine (43%) followed by cannabis (40%) (Table S3.59; Figure CRIM3). The Australian Capital Territory (89%) and Tasmania (86%) have the highest rates of illicit drug use for prison entrants, while South Australia (58%) and the Northern Territory (40%) had the lowest (AIHW 2019) (Table S3.58).
In contrast, rates of drug use among the general population were substantially lower, with 1 in 6 (16.4%) people aged 14 and over reporting the use of any illicit drug in the past 12 months (AIHW 2020).
The figure shows that, in 2020, 82% of police detainees in the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia collection tested positive for any drug via urinalysis. Methamphetamine was the most common drug in positive urine tests (56% of detainees), followed by cannabis (45%), heroin (8%), and cocaine and MDMA/ecstasy (both 2%).
Data from the 2018–19 IDDR found that:
Data from the DUMA found that over 2 in 5 (45%) of police detainees tested positive to cannabis in 2020 (Voce & Sullivan 2021). Urinalysis data were collected in Quarter 1 (January–February 2020) only, prior to COVID-19 restrictions being introduced, this should be taken into account when comparing 2020 data with previous years.
Urinalysis data from the DUMA showed that, in 2020:
Urinalysis data for 2020 were collected in Quarter 1 (January–February) only, prior to COVID-19 restrictions being introduced (Voce & Sullivan 2021). This should be taken into account when comparing 2020 data with previous years.
Data from the DUMA found that over 1 in 5 (22%) police detainees tested positive to opioids in 2020 (Figure CRIM3). This included heroin (8% of detainees), buprenorphine (12%) and methadone (3%), and other (unidentified) opioids (3%). Urinalysis screening cannot distinguish non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids (buprenorphine, methadone).
The NPHDC includes a number of indicators regarding prisoner health and harms. In 2018:
Further, data from the National Prison Entrants’ Blood Borne Virus and Risk Behaviour Survey in 2013 found that almost 1 in 5 (18%) prison entrants had shared injecting drug equipment in the previous month, placing them at risk of communicable disease (Kopak & Hoffman 2014 as cited in AIHW 2015). Less than 1 in 10 (8%) prison dischargees reported using a needle and syringe that had been used by someone else, while in prison (AIHW 2019).
Data from the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Data Set showed that clients were referred to treatment services via police or court diversion in 8% of closed treatment episodes for clients’ own drug use in 2019–20. This is a decrease from 13% in 2018–19 (AIHW 2021a).
The NPHDC found that opioid substitution treatment (OST) was currently being undertaken by 7% of prison entrants and 7% of prison dischargees. Around 1 in 7 (13%) prison entrants reported ever having been on an OST (AIHW 2019).
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2020. Prisoners in Australia, 2020. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 4 February 2021.
ABS 2021a. Criminal Courts, Australia, 2019–20. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 26 March 2021.
ABS 2021b. Recorded Crime – Offenders, 2019–20. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 16 February 2021.
ACIC (Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission) 2020. Illicit Drug Data Report 2018–19. Canberra: ACIC. Viewed 19 October 2020.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2015. The health of Australia’s prisoners 2015. Cat. no. PHE 207. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 2 February 2018.
AIHW 2018. Overlap between youth justice supervision and alcohol and other drug treatment services: 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2016. Cat. no. JUV 126. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 16 October 2018.
AIHW 2019. The health of Australia’s prisoners 2018. Cat. no. PHE 246. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 30 May 2019.
AIHW 2020. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Drug statistics series no. 32. Cat. no. PHE 270. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 16 July 2020.
AIHW 2021a. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia annual report. Cat. no. HSE 250. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 16 July 2021.
AIHW 2021b. Youth justice in Australia 2019–20. Cat. no. JUV 134. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 28 May 2021.
DoH (Department of Health) 2016. Prisoners and recently released prisoners. Canberra: Australian Government. Viewed 2 February 2018.
Fergusson DM, Boden JM & Horwood LJ 2013. Alcohol misuse and psychosocial outcomes in young adulthood. Result from a longitudinal birth cohort studied to age 30. Drug and alcohol dependence 133:513-9.
Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs (IGCD) 2012. National Tobacco Strategy 2012-2018. Viewed 2 February 2018.
Kopak AM & Hoffman NG 2014. Pathways between substance use, dependence, offense type, and offense severity. Criminal Justice Policy Review. 25(6): 743:760.
Patterson E, Sullivan T, Ticehurst A & Bricknell S 2018. Drug use monitoring in Australia: 2015 and 2016 report on drug use among police detainees. Statistical Reports Number 4. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 8 January 2020.
Patterson E, Sullivan T & Bricknell S 2019. Drug use monitoring in Australia: Drug use among police detainees, 2017, Statistical Reports Number 14. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 8 January 2020.
Peacock A, Karlsson A, Uporova J, Price O, Chan R, Swanton R et al. 2020. Australian Drug Trends 2020: Key Findings from the National Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) Interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW.
Peacock A, Uporova J, Karlsson A, Price O, Gibbs D, Swanton R et al. 2021. Australian Drug Trends 2020: Key findings from the National Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) Interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW.
Voce A & Sullivan T 2021. Drug use monitoring in Australia: Drug use among police detainees, 2020. Statistical Report 35. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 23 June 2021.
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