Queensland’s rate of imprisonment has recently undergone a reversal,
following several years of what appeared to be a declining trend. Contrary
to other states and territories, from 2002 to 2012 the rate of imprisonment
in Queensland from 168 to 159 prisoners per 100,000 adults. In 2013 this
trend reversed and by 2014 the rate had reached a 21% increase over the
In addition, over this period Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) has
increasingly accommodated prisoners in high-security rather than
low-security prisons. In 2013, was at 93% compared to 63% in low-security
The increase in prisoner numbers and greater use of high-security facilities
might seem to indicate that Queensland has recently become more
punitive, with tougher and longer sentences. However, evidence suggests at
least part of the rise in prison numbers may be due to the greater
proportion of offenders who return to prison either following or during a
period of supervision in the community.
For several years, Queensland has led other states and territories in these
kinds of returns to prison. For example, the showed that the state’s rate of
returns to prisons was 34.1% compared to the Australian average 24.8%.
Queensland’s rate of return was nearly nine percentage points higher than
What is driving the ‘revolving door’?
The recent rise in imprisonment is unlikely to be due to changes in the
state’s crime rate. Long-term crime trends over the past 12 years. And while
some might blame recent government policies, given their open promotion
of “get tough” strategies related to crime control and the picture is a bit
more complex than this.
One contributing factor is the increased use of court-ordered parole in
combination with decreased use of suspended sentences. The Corrective
Services Act 2006 (QLD) stated that parole would be the from prison. As a
result, other forms of gradual or conditional release from prison, including
work release, temporary absences or home detention, were no longer
In traditional forms of parole, parole boards determine the date of release
following a period of good behaviour. Although this form of parole
continued to exist for offenders sentenced to terms of three years or more,
the Act introduced court-ordered parole for offenders who have committed
less serious offences and are sentenced to three years or less. In these cases,
courts set the date of parole release at sentencing and parole could begin at
any point. In effect, offenders could serve their entire sentence in the
community on parole.
The aim of court-ordered parole was ostensibly to increase the level of
supervision for offenders in the community. All sentenced offenders would
receive at least some level of supervision – though the intensity of this
supervision would vary. But court-ordered parole has also been to
suspended sentences by providing magistrates with a supervised
However, evidence suggests that a large proportion of these offenders
either return to prison as a result of a breach, leading to suspension or
cancellation of the order, or after committing a new offence. For instance,
our research indicates that about one in four court-ordered parolees return
to prison on a new offence after a three-year follow-up, in contrast to about
one in ten board-ordered parolees.
The reality is that the often minimal level of supervision may increase the
amount of scrutiny without providing much of the kind of support that
offenders might require for successful re-entry.
The increasingly constricted level of funding and resources devoted to
community corrections might also contribute to this result. Funding
restrictions limit the nature and extent of supervision that parole officers
with growing caseloads can provide. They also reduce the availability of
Certainly changes in the “back-end” release policies – such as
court-ordered parole – may have contributed to a revolving-door situation
in which offenders frequently return to prisons. It is possible that the less
frequent use of suspended sentences contributed because parolees are more
closely monitored, increasing the detection of breaches. However,
researchers have found, to the contrary, that suspended sentences may
actually lead to a rise in the imprisonment rate.
Whatever the reason, the issue is to find some way to deal with the rising
trend, and especially with the high levels of offender breaches.
Community reparation and rehabilitation work best
Recent evidence demonstrates the importance of focusing on re-entry and
reparation in two important ways.
First, research has demonstrated the importance of sanctions that combine
punishment with programs that help re-establish the offender in the
community. These emphasise punishment in the community rather than
removal from society – and include a range of rehabilitative cSecond,
helping offenders find and keep work has been shown to promote offender
change. This contributes to successful re-entry to society. Investing in
prison training and programs as well as prisoner reentry programs reduces
the risk of re-offending.
In Queensland, where QCS has provided vocational and educational
training programs, evidence indicates very positive results. have fallen for
prisoners who enrol in these programs.
Our research shows the completion of in-prison vocational and educational
training. In a forthcoming publication, we show that these work programs
are important starting points for offenders to change their patterns of
behaviour, forging new non-offending identities.
These types of programs will make a difference in helping offenders
reintegrate by tackling the risk factors for offending.