Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

The (male) elephant in Australian prisons

By Sandra Bilson - posted Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Men commit almost all crime in Australia.

The statistic is huge according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). It’s that time of the year again when the ABS releases their annual Crime and Justice Newsletter. It was posted on their website on July 17, 2007 and announced that men were way ahead: 77 per cent of all assault offenders and 79 per cent of all robbery offenders.

At least the ABS bothers. The New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) also releases crime statistics as well as related reports. But you can’t find out the gender statistic because it is not included. Nor is it included in their Annual Report either. In fact, the last time the dreaded “gender” statistic surfaced at BOCSAR appears to be in April 1995 in a report titled, Women as Victims and Offenders. Of all the court cases finalised as guilty, 14.6 per cent were judgments against women (as opposed to 85.4 per cent against men).


There is no doubt the differences between men and women committing crimes is “statistically significant” by any measure. Somehow it just dropped off the research and report agenda. It is missing from ABS and BOCSAR media releases and it is absent from the “spin” by various police ministers and police executives. One big glaring missing fact: men commit most crimes.

The most recent relevant ABS data (from September Quarter 2006) shows that of the average daily number of full-time prisoners in Australia, 23,452 (93 per cent) were male and 1,767 (7 per cent) were female. The average daily imprisonment rate for males was 301 prisoners per 100,000 of the adult male population, while for females it was 22 prisoners per 100,000 of the adult female population. Males were more than 14 times more likely to be in prison than females. Men are statistically way ahead for every offence in every state, except for prostitution.

On a global level there is no real change. Men commit most crime around the world. Sample data from the seventh United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems across 41 participating countries shows that the total number of women prosecuted lagged up to 95 per cent behind the total number of men prosecuted. The same applies to conviction rates. It is a consistent fact, spanning all countries and cultures. It also consistently fails to make any substantive impact. Why?

First, in Australia, it is not very politically correct to point out the fact men commit most crimes. Men who point out this fact are perhaps traitors, holding up a mirror that political correctness inadvertently shattered some time ago.

Debate is dead. “Persons”, not men or women, commit crimes. BOCSAR collects “person” data from the NSW Police and Courts based on ABS locations called statistical divisions. BOCSAR also kindly sorts the data into the NSW Local Government Areas, to help politicians’ spin-doctors. Politicised and politically correct “applied research” prevails.

Women who point out this fact are, perhaps, (god forbid) feminists. Obviously they failed to hear the feminist movement came and went. Equality apparently won. Take a look at the beautiful Paris Hilton; she was in and out of jail. It was front-page headlines for weeks and blogged to death. Women do commit crimes and are indeed committing more. Never mind learning lessons from men’s offence patterns to reverse this trend. This is equality and women need to catch-up. The need for such data and debate has long since passed.


Second, it’s one of those tricky emotive debates that should be (safely) relegated to academics. Criminologists and sociologists research and theorise a range of reasons. Academic debates rage about the causes: biological determinism, gender socialisation, masculine dominance and definitions of crime, female discrimination, or a combination of all the above. Concluding discussions invariably return to the politically correct neutral language. Men and women become “gender”. Big statistical differences become “over-representations”. Careful studies and careful language with zero impact.

Third, apart from cursory acknowledgements, there are few cross-disciplinary studies grappling with the insights gained from recent significant developments in both genetic and behavioural sciences. Staying within the confines of the disciplines of biology, sociology and criminology is easier. Pushing into other expertise areas is difficult and years of recognised research are essential before anyone even listens (and that’s just within academia). Empirical legacies combine with political correctness to silence open debate.

The enduring absence of this fact from mainstream law and order policy debates also suggests a disturbing social immaturity within Australia. Society is reluctant to openly acknowledge core differences between sexes. Government is reluctant to understand, respond and engage the community in a positive discourse about the complexity of men and women on both biological and behavioural continuums. Australians are complicit in their reluctance to acknowledge the male elephant standing in their prisons.

Imagine if government’s acted on this fact. Imagine crime prevention programs that targeted boys and young men, without labels of them being sexist, discriminatory, or self-serving. Imagine early family intervention programs differentiated to acknowledge and nurture genetically determined strengths (sexual and otherwise). Imagine prison programs without a “one-size-fits-all” or “off-the-shelf” mentality. Imagine less men in prison, less women in prison, less recidivism, less crime.

Last year, a BOCSAR Report stated that “nearly one in 10 persons born in NSW in 1984 acquired a criminal record before the age of 21”. Sex differences were very absent from the study. The Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, stated the findings “highlighted the enormous potential savings in police and court time that could be gained from programs that reduce recidivism”.

Imagine if policy debate was really informed.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

131 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Sandra Bilson is a freelance writer with long involvement in state and federal law enforcement, security, project management, intelligence and policy. She was the Operations Manager at Macquarie University’s Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism. Previous positions include the Manager of the former National Crime Authority and New South Wales Police Strategic Criminal Intelligence teams, responsible for criminal threat assessments, as well as serving as a Federal Police Officer. She taught criminology at the University of Western Sydney while also working as a senior policy advisor at the New South Wales Ministry for Police. Currently a member of the Australian Institute of Project Management, the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers, and the NSW Writers Centre. Qualifications include a Masters in Social Science (Criminology) (CSU) and Bachelor of Arts (Government / Education) (Syd).

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Sandra Bilson

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 131 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy