Australian Institute of Criminology

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Women in prison - numbers soar

Media Release

31 October 2000

The Australian Institute of Criminology, in conjunction with the South Australian Department for Correctional Services, is holding Australia's first conference on Women in Prisons. It will be held at the Novotel Hotel, Adelaide, and commences at 8.45am on Tuesday, 31 October 2000.

In his opening comments, the Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, Dr Adam Graycar, will say that in Australian prisons today there are 1124 sentenced women of whom 273 or 24% are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Dr Graycar notes that during the 1990s the number of sentenced women in Australian prisons increased by 185% and the number of Aboriginal women increased by 262%. Aboriginal women today have an incarceration rate of 207 per 100,000 population - double the rate (104 per 100,000) that prevailed in 1991. This compares with 15.3 per 100,000 for all women today. Dr Graycar says this high level of over-representation is a social issue that is far greater than a correctional services issue.

Half of all women in prison have been imprisoned before. For Aboriginal women 69% have been imprisoned before.

In 1999, 31% of all women were incarcerated for violent offences (compared to 46% of men). Women are more likely than men to be incarcerated for drug offences (12% compared to 9% for men), and property offences (34% compared to 23% for men).

The overwhelming majority of women (around 80%) were unemployed or not part of the labour force when entering prison and only 20% have completed secondary school.

Dr Graycar points out that drug treatment programs in prison were essentially interventions in trying to reduce the number of women in prison. There seem to be good returns from some drug treatment programs though there has been very little evaluation in Australia. Educational programs have generally had very little take-up rates by women prisoners in Australia, though some employment programs have been successful. In South Australia, for example, women prisoners train guide dogs for the blind.

Dr Graycar's introductory comments will be made at 8.45am and he will be followed by Mr Robert Brokenshire, South Australian Minister for Police and Correctional Services, and then Kim Pate from Canada, and Penny Armytage, Commissioner for Correctional Services, Victoria.

Two tables containing current data on women in prisons are shown below:

Women prisoners in Australia

Prepared by Margaret Cameron, Research Analyst

Sentenced prison population 1991-1999
  1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
Total Women 607 638 649 718 709 816 919 939 1124
Rate per 100,000 9.2 9.6 9.6 10.5 10.2 11.6 12.9 12.9 15.3
Total Men 12429 13067 13334 14280 14720 15071 15603 16179 17208
Rate per 100,000 194.0 201.1 202.9 214.6 218.3 220.3 224.8 229.6 240.5
ATSI Women 104 116 111 135 139 178 196 218 273
Rate per 100,000 103.9 112.0 104.7 124.6 125.5 158.9 165.7 174.5 206.5
Sentenced women prisoners in Australian States in 1999
NSW VIC QLD SA WA TAS NT ACT AUS
(a)(b)
Total 466 144 233 55 186 17 22 1 7 1124
- N. previously imprisoned 217 87 117 33 94 7 9     564
- (%) (47%) (60%) (50%) (60%) (51%) (41%) (41%)     (50%)
ATSI 86 6 62 10 92 2 15     273
- N. previously imprisoned 62 5 39 9 64 1 9     189
- (%) (72%) (83%) (63%) (90%) (70%) (50%) (60%)     (69%)
  • (a) Full-time prisoners sentenced in the ACT are held in NSW prisons. The ACT provides for periodic detention.
  • (b) Full-time prisoners sentenced in the ACT and held in NSW prisons. The ACT and NSW figures are a subset of the NSW figures and are not separately counted in the Australia totals.