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Illicit drug offences (62,698 offenders) and acts intended to cause injury (82,942 offenders) were the most common principal offences nationally in 2020-21. The number of illicit drug offences decreased by 16% (down 11,745 offenders) between 2019–20 and 2020–21. 17% of offenders had a principal offence that was illicit drug related in 2020–21 (ABS 2022b).
Data from Criminal Courts, Australia for 2020–21 showed that, excluding organisations and transfers to other court levels, most defendants had their offences finalised in the Magistrates’ Courts (92%, or 468,349 defendants, a 9% increase since 2019–20).
- Illicit drug offences were the 3rd most common principal offence, accounting for over 1 in 10 (11%, or 50,958) defendants finalised in the Magistrates’ Courts. Of these:
- almost two-thirds (62%, or 34,754 defendants) were possession or use offences
- three-quarters (75%, or 37,480) of defendants were male.
- Excluding transfers, illicit drug offences remained steady from 2010–11 to 2018–19 before dropping in 2019–20 (45,252) and rising again in 2020–21 (50,958).
- Of defendants proven guilty in the Magistrates’ Courts for a principal offence of illicit drug offences (47,353 defendants), over 3 in 5 (64%, or 30,099) were sentenced to fines. A further 7.4% were given a custodial sentence (ABS 2022a) (Table S3.55).
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 2021 showed that there were 42,970 prisoners in Australia. This represents 214 prisoners per 100,000 adult population and is a 5% increase from 2020 (ABS 2021).
On an average day in 2020-21, 4,695 young people aged 10 and over were under youth justice supervision. A total of 9,352 young people were supervised at some time during the year, down from 10,230 in 2019-20 (AIHW 2022b). On an average day in 2020-21, more than 4 in 5 (84%) of young people under supervision were supervised in the community. However, around 1 in 6 (17%) were in detention and some were supervised in both the community and detention on the same day. In 2020-21, the youth justice supervision data from this period coincides with the presence of COVID-19 in Australia and related social restrictions. Further research is required to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on youth justice supervision (AIHW 2022b).
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:
- Three-quarters (75%) of prison entrants currently smoked tobacco.
- Tasmania had the highest proportion of current smokers (90%), followed by South Australia (83%). Queensland (68%) had the lowest proportion.
- More than two-thirds (67%) of prison entrants smoked tobacco daily (Figure CRIM1).
- The average age a prisoner smoked their first full cigarette was 14.1 years (AIHW 2019).
In the general population, findings from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) showed that of people aged 14 and over:
- 11.0% smoked on a daily basis.
- 14.0% were current smokers.
- The average age of their first full cigarette was 16.6 years (AIHW 2020).
Figure CRIM1: Smoking status for prison entrants and the general population, 2018 and 2019 (percent)