Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 02 December 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). 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 August 2022, 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, 2022 [cited 2022 Dec. 2]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, viewed 2 December 2022, 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 2020, the most commonly detected drugs among police detainees were amphetamine-type stimulants (52%) and cannabis (45%)
Over three-quarters (77%) of police detainees who provided a urine sample in 2021 tested positive for at least one drug type
View the People in contact with criminal justice systems fact sheet >
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).
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:
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 2021 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, S236).
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 2019–20 IDDR, there was a record 166,321 national illicit drug arrests in 2019–20, an increase from 153,377 arrests in 2018–19. The number of national illicit drug arrests has increased 96% over the last decade (from 84,738 arrests in 2010–11) (ACIC 2021). Most (88%) of the national illicit drug arrests in 2019–20 were for consumer related offences (Figure CRIM2).
The Prisoners in Australia report contains annual national information on prisoners in custody as at 30 June 2021. Some key findings are:
This figure shows that in 2019–20, most consumer arrests were for cannabis (69,406) followed by amphetamine-type stimulants (43,428).
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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 drugs.
Of the 2021 EDRS participants:
Of the 2021 IDRS participants:
Due to COVID-19 restrictions being imposed in various jurisdictions during data collection periods for both the IDRS and the EDRS, interviews in 2020 and 2021 were delivered face-to-face as well as via telephone. This change in methodology should be considered when comparing data from the 2020 and 2021 samples relative to previous years.
Data from the DUMA program indicate that drug use is common among police detainees. In 2021, 45% of police detainees had used cannabis in the past 30 days and 41% had used methamphetamine (Voce & Sullivan 2022).
Among police detainees who provided a urine sample:
In 2021, data collection was suspended during quarter 3 and the Sydney collection was relocated from Bankstown to Surry Hills in quarter 4 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This should be considered when comparing 2021 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%) (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 S225).
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 2019–20 IDDR found that:
Data from the DUMA found that over 2 in 5 (45%) of police detainees reported using cannabis in the past 30 days in 2021 (Voce & Sullivan 2022). In 2021, data were not collected during Quarter 3 and the Sydney collection was relocated from Bankstown to Surry Hills in Quarter 4 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Urinalysis data from the DUMA showed that, in 2021:
Data for 2021 were not collected during Quarter 3 and the Sydney collection was relocated from Bankstown to Surry Hills in Quarter 4 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This should be considered when comparing 2021 data with previous years.
Urinalysis data from the DUMA found that almost 1 in 5 (18%) police detainees tested positive to opioids in 2021 (Figure CRIM3). This included heroin (4% of detainees), buprenorphine (11%), methadone (2%), and other (unidentified) opioids (4%). 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).
Treatment data collected for the AODTS NMDS are released twice each year, via an early insights report in April and a detailed report mid-year.
Data from the AODTS NMDS showed that in 2020–21, diversion referrals fell from 14% in 2011–12 to 9% in 2020–21 (AIHW 2022a).
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) 2021. Prisoners in Australia, 2021. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 10 January 2022.
ABS 2022a. Criminal Courts, Australia 2020-21. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 28 February 2022.
ABS 2022b. Recorded Crime – Offenders, 2020-21. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 14 February 2022.
ACIC (Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission) 2021. Illicit Drug Data Report 2019–2020. Canberra: ACIC. Viewed 25 October 2021.
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 2022a. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia annual report. Cat. No. HSE 250. AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 27 July 2022.
AIHW 2022b. Youth justice in Australia 2020-21. Cat no. JUV 138. Canberra: AIHW, accessed 31 March 2022.
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.
Sutherland R, Peacock A, Karlsson A, Uporova J, Price O, Chandrasena U, Swanton R, Gibbs D, Bruno R, Wilson Y, Dietze P, Hall C, Eddy S, Lenton S, Grigg J, Salom C, Daly C, Thomas N, Juckel J, Degenhardt L, & Farrell M (2021a). Australian Drug Trends 2021: Key Findings from the National Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) Interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney.
Sutherland R, Uporova J, Chandrasena U, Price O, Karlsson A, Gibbs D, Swanton R, Bruno R, Dietze P, Lenton S, Salom C, Daly C, Thomas N, Juckel J, Agramunt S, Wilson Y, Woods E, Moon C, Degenhardt L, Farrell M and Peacock A. 2021b. Australian Drug Trends 2021: Key Findings from the National Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) Interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney.
Voce A & Sullivan T 2022. Drug use monitoring in Australia: Drug use among police detainees, 2021. Statistical Report 40. Australian Institute of Criminology, accessed 6 May 2022.
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