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Drug use leads to crime for more women than men

Media Release

30 April 2009

The association between drug use and criminal activity is stronger in women than in men, according to the results of a study by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) released today.

Women, drug use and crime: findings from the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program  is the latest publication from the AIC's Research and Public Policy series and examines many of the unique characteristics of women offenders.

Using the AIC's Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program, the study has analysed how women differ from men in terms of alcohol and other drug use and offending.

AIC General Manager, Research, Dr Judy Putt, said analysis of DUMA data in seven urban sites over a six-year period, highlighted differences between a sample of more than 15,000 men and nearly 3,000 women interviewed while in police watch-houses and stations.

"The study showed female police detainees were more socially and occupationally disadvantaged than their male counterparts, and just under half of the women were responsible for the care of dependent children," Dr Putt said.

Indigenous women were even further disadvantaged as they were likely to be younger, have less education, were less likely to be employed and more likely to be caring for children and living in public housing than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Compared with males, female detainees were less likely to have used alcohol heavily but had higher rates of illicit drug use and high rates of dependency on illicit drugs.

The use of illicit drugs was associated, particularly for female detainees, with property offending. Alcohol use is more likely to be associated with violent crime than with other crimes, and regular and dependent alcohol use increased women's likelihood of being involved in violent offending, although not to the same extent as it did men's.

Dr Putt said female detainees were more likely than males to attribute their crime to illicit drug use, and many women had become regular users of illicit drugs prior to their first arrest, which occurred on average at the age of 21.

"The report underlines how important it is to develop harm-reduction interventions for women through the criminal justice system," Dr Putt said.

"Even though females constitute the minority of offenders, this study shows that most have poor socioeconomic status, many have dependent children and many have complex and multiple needs related to problematic drug use and mental-health issues.

"The results suggest that early intervention that addresses drug use by women when they first have contact with the criminal justice system will reduce the likelihood of their becoming long-term and persistent offenders and of their being imprisoned in future years.

"We also need research that explores differences among female drug and offending patterns and their take-up of and positive response to crime-prevention and drug interventions such as treatment and education," Dr Putt added.

AIC media contact: Scott Kelleher, Tel: 02.6260 9244; m: 0418 159525.