3.69 National estimates of the recidivism of offenders are not routinely published. Instead, the prior record of imprisonment of prisoners is examined. It is important to note, however, that prior record is not a measure of recidivism—it is incorrect to conclude that, because 76% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners may be repeat offenders, the recidivism rate is 76%. Prior record is, for each prisoner, simply a count of all previous terms of imprisonment across the life-course of that individual. It is not adjusted for age or any other factor. It is not a forecast of the likelihood of future offending nor does it take into account the time period within which such offending might occur. It is, nonetheless, the only measure currently available.
3.70 Nationally, the proportion of prisoners with a prior record of imprisonment was very high: three quarters (76%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners and half (49%) of non-Indigenous prisoners in 2016 had been in custody on at least one previous occasion. As Figure 3.19 shows, in every jurisdiction, a greater proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners than non-Indigenous prisoners had a prior record of imprisonment.
Figure 3.19: Proportion of prisoners with a prior record of imprisonment by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status (2016)
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Prisoners in Australia, 2016, Cat No 4517.0 (2016) requested table, table 14.
3.71 The ALRC discusses the role of prior imprisonment in bail decisions of accused Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Chapter 5 and in sentencing decisions in Chapter 6. Reforms that aim to minimise return to prison are discussed in Chapter 9 on prison programs, parole and throughcare.