New figures released by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research show a remarkable decline in the NSW prison population over 8 weeks from mid-March 2020. From 15 March to 10 May the prison population decreased by 10.7% or 1,508 people.
The fall coincided with the ramp-up of COVID-19 mitigation strategies in the community and within the justice system.
The majority of the fall was due to a reduction in the number of people on remand waiting for their court cases. Remand entries fell and remand exits increased due to:
- A dip in the number of charges laid by police,
- More favourable bail decisions by both police and courts, and
- An increase in people released from remand to wait for their court case in the community.
The sentenced prisoner population also declined after the courts reduced hearings and, accordingly, fewer people were sentenced to prison.
The youth detention population also showed a large decline, falling by 27% or 73 detainees from February to June 2020 (from 268 detainees at the end of February to 195 at the end of June).
The fall in people in custody has come about due to both justice and community strategies aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 according to Jackie Fitzgerald, Executive Director at BOCSAR.
“The community lockdown saw falls in many crime categories which led to fewer charges. In addition, operational changes within the justice system have had an impact, including the postponement of court cases, changes in bail decisions and the release of people on remand.”