Too soft on crime? Numbers show we're tougher than before

THE statement "we're too soft on criminals these days" often gets bandied around, but the truth is New South Wales courts are actually tougher on crime than they were two decades ago.

No wonder our jails are full to bursting.

A new Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research study has found judges are now less likely to grant bail, more apt to imprison offenders and have lengthened average jail sentences.

Researcher Karen Freeman compared how sentence severity changed between 1994 and 2013.

She discovered only 26.1% of convicted criminals were refused bail 20 years ago, compared to 47.7% in 2013.

Imprisonment rates increased 44.9% for fraud convictions, 41.4% for dangerous or negligent acts and 37.7% for prohibited weapons and explosives crimes.

Sex offenders before the court are now twice as likely to be imprisoned, although still only just over one-quarter of offences ever result in jail.

Convicted murderers were just as likely to see a prison cell in 2013 as they were in 1994.

"There were no statistically significant downward trends for any of the offence categories over the 20-year period examined," Ms Freeman found.

Average prison terms increased most pronouncedly for offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations - up 96.8% from 9.5 months to 19 months.

Sentencing for homicide and related offences were extended from 35 months to 61 months, while jail terms for acts intended to cause injury lengthened on average from 19 months to 25 months.

The only significant downward trend was for robbery and extortion, with a 9.3% drop in sentence severity from 27 months to 24.5 months.

Increased bail refusal, imprisonment and sentences have had a marked impact on the NSW prison population, despite a decrease from 11,100 to 9900 inmates between 2009 and 2013.

The falling prisoner population prompted the State Government to shut down a number of prisons - a decision it has now had to rethink.

In February, the state's prisoner population hit its equal all-time high of 11,100 inmates.

That same month, the government announced it would re-open Kirkconnell Jail near Bathurst by the middle of the year.

It is also considering reviving Grafton Jail in the Northern Rivers to cope with the flood of new inmates - a decision local MP Chris Gulaptis says is "just a matter of time".