Social Justice Report 2002\
5: Indigenous women and corrections - A Landscape of Risk
Rates of incarceration of Indigenous women
b) Recidivism rates among Indigenous women
c) Types of crime committed by Indigenous women
e) Sentencing patterns for Indigenous women
f) Characteristics of Indigenous women who are imprisoned
to family life
of health care
with Family and Friends
to cultural responsibilities and dislocation from community
Importance of Pre- and Post-Release Programs for Indigenous Women
Issues Should Pre- and Post-Release Programs Address?
The Social Justice
Report 2001 reported on the situation of Indigenous prisoners in the
decade following the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
(RCIADIC). The report noted that the ten years since the Royal Commission
have seen a rise in the adult prison population and an even sharper rise
in numbers of Indigenous peoples in custody. While Indigenous men face
unacceptably high rates of incarceration, the rate for Indigenous women
is significantly higher  and is rising at a faster
rate. The Social Justice Report 2001 noted
that this situation is 'profoundly distressing' and yet 'Aboriginal women
remain largely invisible to policy makers and program designers with very
little attention devoted to their specific situation and needs'. 
This chapter follows
up on these concerns and provides an overview of issues facing Indigenous
women in corrections. It is broadly divided into four sections - an overview
of the status of Indigenous women in corrections; an analysis of policy
debates about Indigenous women in corrections and the growing recognition
of the need to identify intersections of racism and gender discrimination;
an overview of the specific issues faced by Indigenous women in corrections;
and an overview of developments and proposals for more appropriately addressing
Indigenous women's needs in correctional systems.
face an unacceptably high risk of incarceration in prisons across Australia.
The rising rate of over-representation of Indigenous women is occurring
in the context of intolerably high levels of family violence, over-policing
for selected offences, ill-health, unemployment and poverty. Studies of
Indigenous women in prison reveal experiences of life in a society fraught
with danger from violence. The consequences to the community of the removal
of Indigenous women are significant and potentially expose children to
risk of neglect, abuse, hunger and homelessness. Indigenous women also
serve comparatively shorter sentences, suggesting a general failure to
employ the principle of imprisonment as a last resort. Once imprisoned,
recidivism statistics also indicate that Indigenous women are at greater
risk of returning to gaol. Despite these factors, very little research
has been conducted to explain the causes of it.
The reports of the
Royal Commission also focus almost exclusively on the circumstances of
Aboriginal men. Of the 99 deaths investigated, only 11 were the deaths
of women, and none of the recommendations of the Royal Commission specifically
addressed the circumstances of Indigenous women.
Amid this bleak picture,
there has been a growing awareness in recent years of the specific cultural
needs of Indigenous women in corrections. It is beginning to be accepted
that while much offending behaviour is linked to social marginalisation
and economic disadvantage, the impact of non-economic deprivation, such
as damage to identity and culture, as well as trauma and grief, have a
significant relationship to offending behaviour. Effective crime prevention
and pre- and post-release programs are beginning to recognise the need
for Indigenous self-determination and participation, with a focus on cultural
restoration and healing.
This section provides
an overview of what is known about Indigenous female prisoners over the
past decade. There is limited statistical data currently collected and
limitations on the data are noted where relevant. This section considers
changes in rates of incarceration over the past decade; recidivism statistics
and descriptions of the type of offences committed by Indigenous women;
sentencing patterns for Indigenous women; as well as a profile of the
characteristics of the Indigenous women prison population.
are currently incarcerated at a rate higher than any other group in Australia.
The decade since
the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody has seen an increase
in the overall national prison population of 28 percent.
By 2001, all States and Territories had recorded increases in prison numbers
varying from 116 per cent in Queensland to 25 per cent in New South Wales.
During this time,
incarceration rates for women have increased at a more rapid rate than
for men. The population of sentenced men incarcerated has increased from
12,429 in 1991 to 20,960 in 2001.
This represents a 68.7% increase. At the same time, the female prison
population increased from 607 to 1,498. This represents
an increase of 147% from 1991. In 1991, women represented
5 per cent of the proportion of all Australian prisoners. In 2001, this
proportion had increased to 7 percent.
The increase in imprisonment
of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women has been much greater over
the period compared with other women. The number
of Indigenous women incarcerated has increased from 104 in 1991 
to 370 Indigenous women in 2001. This represents
an increase of 255.8% over the decade. Similarly, rates of over-representation
of Indigenous women are higher than for Indigenous men. For the June 2002
quarter, Indigenous women were over-represented at 19.6 times the non-Indigenous
rate compared to Indigenous men at 15.2 times.
Causes of the increases
are complex and vary between jurisdictions. In New South Wales, the Select
Committee into the Increase in Prison Population found in 2001 that the
most significant contributing factor was the increase in the remand population.
There was no evidence to suggest that an in increase in actual crime accounted
for the prison increase, although increases in police activity and changes
in judicial attitudes to sentencing were also important.
The following three
tables highlight different aspects of these incarceration rates. Table
1 shows the number of people incarcerated in Australia in the period
1991 to 2001 for men and women, and on the basis of Indigenous identity.
1: Changes in Incarceration in Australia between 1991-2001
at 30 June
2 distinguishes between rates of incarceration of Indigenous and non-Indigenous
women and men expressed as rates of imprisonment per 100,000 of population.
It reveals a steady rise in the over-representation of Indigenous women
over the decade, to the point that by 1999 they were 17.5 times more likely
to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous females. It also reveals that the
rate (per 100,000) of Indigenous women in custody is approaching that
of non-Indigenous men.
2: Sentenced prison population - rate per 100,000 by Indigenous status
per 100,000 
per 100,000 
3 shows over-representation rates on a state-by-state basis. New South
Wales, Western Australia and South Australia have the highest over-representation
3: Indigenous imprisonment rates by state / territory - June 2002
reports also tell us the following about Indigenous women in corrections:
- In New South
Wales, Indigenous women represented 30 percent of the total female population
in custody in October 2002  despite constituting
only 2 percent of the female population of the state. 
- In Queensland,
the growth of Indigenous female offenders in Queensland secure and open
custody over the five year period from 1994-1999 was 204 per cent, compared
with an increase of 173 per cent for all female offenders in Queensland
over the same period.  In February 2001, Indigenous
women represented 28.2 per cent of the total female population in Queensland
open and secure centres. 
- In Victoria,
of the 4886 prisoners received into Victorian prisons in the 2000-01
period, only 539 were women. Nevertheless, while
female representation is low overall, Indigenous women are over-represented,constituting
8% of all female prisoners.
- In Western Australia,
reception data  shows that for the period 1 July
2001 to 30 June 2002, Aboriginal women represented 51.7 per cent of
all women received into prison  despite constituting
3.2 per cent of the female population of Western Australia.
- In the Northern
Territory, Indigenous women constituted 57 percent of the total female
prison population  and 26 per cent of the female
population of the Northern Territory.
A significant factor
among the Indigenous female prisoner population is the high rate of recidivism.
National statistical data indicates that nearly 3 in every 4 (76 percent)
of all Indigenous prisoners had been previously imprisoned. This statistic
replicates data collected in 2000. In New South
Wales, 'almost 85% of Aboriginal women in prison have previously been
in custody compared with 71% of non-Aboriginal women'.
When the Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee in New South Wales recently
conducted interviews with Indigenous women in New South Wales prisons,
98 per cent of women had a prior conviction as an adult.
Table 4 shows recidivism rates for Indigenous compared
to non-Indigenous women. It shows that recidivism rates are higher in
all jurisdictions for Indigenous women.
4: Sentenced women prisoners known to be previously imprisoned in Australian
states in 1999 
of a Victorian study on the prison population found a rate of re-offending
of 71 percent among Indigenous women compared to a rate of 61 percent
average in 2000 among the female population. The report noted:
The emerging pattern
amongst this group of offenders is that they have had a history of contact
with the criminal justice system throughout all of their adult lives.
Such a pattern appears to be directly linked to the fact that the majority
of women suffered from some sort of long term drug addiction that required
Statistics in relation
to previous offending are a useful indication of a prison's achievements
in rehabilitating offenders,  and these figures
suggest a need to focus on the women prisoners offending and background
with a view to effective interventions. Development
and support of effective programs for Indigenous women is clearly a priority
to reduce rates of re-offending. The investigation of offences and sentencing
patterns should be supported in order to clearly identify patterns which
result in repeated use of custodial options.
The pattern of recidivism
or repeat offending contributes to the trend of increasing over-representation
of Indigenous women. Investigation of the causes and conditions which
place Indigenous women at risk of repeated imprisonment is a pressing
There are some limitations
to the statistical information on crimes committed by Indigenous women.
Prison census data, for example, records prisoners on the date of the
census. Prisoners who served short sentences and are no longer present
on the census day are not recorded. Therefore, these figures underestimate
Indigenous women coming through the prison system on shorter sentences
for more minor offences.
Prison census data
records the most serious crime for which an inmate is convicted. Therefore,
other offences which might contextualise the criminal behaviour are generally
not recorded. For instance, a person in possession of drugs at the time
of an armed robbery will be recorded as an armed robber. The primary offence
is recorded, but an apparent drug addiction is not represented in the
Categories of criminal
behaviour influence the image of criminal conduct provided by statistical
records. For example, a broad range of events may be referred to as 'escape',
'assault' or 'fraud'. The word 'escape' may refer to a planned violent
break out from a gaol, but it most commonly refers to the action of prisoners
who are serving the end of their sentence in a minimum security facility,
and who leave prior to the end of their sentence. Another example is 'assault',
which conjures up images of a violent attack, but it may equally refer
to less violent forms of physical contact or generating the fear of physical
contact. Fraud may refer to complex deceptions, but it may also refer
to the conduct of omitting to inform Centrelink of a de-facto relationship
while claiming a supporting parent's pension.
The importance of
these distinctions is not intended to minimise criminal behaviour, but
rather to signal the range of incidents and cultural contexts from which
the statistical data is derived.
Statistics on crimes
committed by Indigenous women indicate that there is a considerable degree
of variation in criminal behaviour across jurisdictions and within regions.
Table 5 shows rates of commission of particular crimes
by Indigenous women across Australia between 1994 and 2001.
5: Most Serious Offence, Indigenous Women Prisoners, Australia 1994-2001
This table shows
the various categories of offences for which Indigenous women were in
prison at the time of the census. While underestimating the numbers of
women serving short sentences for minor offences, the table shows a steady
and significant increase in most categories of offences. Thus, there were
100% more Indigenous women in prison for homicide related offences in
2001 than 1994, 127% more for assault and related offences, 440% more
for robbery, and so on.
The increases were
reasonably comparable across many offence categories, although of particular
significance has been the increase in imprisonment for robbery offences,
which outstripped all other changes. Imprisonment for fraud and break
and enter convictions, although increasing over the period, did so less
significantly than other categories of crime.
The rise in robbery
offences clearly requires investigation to determine factors contributing
to this increase. In a recent study of Indigenous women in prisons in
Victoria, property and robbery offences were by far the most commonly
committed with a significant increase in robbery offences.
It was noted that robbery 'offences appeared to be directly linked to
long term drug use'.
women comprise nearly 80% of all cases where women are detained in police
custody for public drunkenness. Similarly, by comparison
to non-Indigenous women, Indigenous women are more likely to be incarcerated
for violence. In a number of jurisdictions there
has been a rise in the numbers of Aboriginal women arrested and imprisoned
for assaults. In Western Australia, 'Aboriginal females were over thirty
six times more likely to be arrested for such offences than non-Aboriginal
females'. In Queensland, 'Indigenous female offenders
are often incarcerated for violent offences and of these assault offences
comprise the greatest proportion'. Recent consultations
by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Women's Policy Units
in Queensland found that community groups and correctional personnel expressed
the need to address the links between alcohol use and violence by women.
Statistics on drug
and alcohol related offences vary between jurisdictions. There has been
a past general trend of low numbers of Indigenous people imprisoned for
drug offences. In some jurisdictions this appears to be changing. Survey
data from New South Wales and Victoria indicate wide use of drugs including
narcotics. In a recent Victorian study, 'the offending behaviour of twelve
of the fourteen women was directly linked to their drug addiction'.
In a recent survey
the New South Wales Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council's Research Teams
women in custody whether they thought that alcohol and/ or drugs were
a contributing factor in their offending behaviour and current imprisonment.
The figures show that four out of five Aboriginal women in custody believed
that alcohol or drugs was an underlying issue in their offending with
approximately 80% of participants responding in the affirmative.
In further discussions
the Researchers asked Aboriginal women about this relationship. One woman
who was a single mother to two children said that 'the reason why I am
in here is because I assaulted someone I was on speed at the time,
and if I wasn't on that, then I wouldn't have done the assault.' The same
woman had three prior convictions as an adult and mentioned that the first
time she had been convicted was 'on fraud charges I was twenty and
got six months the circumstances behind the offence was drugs...to
pay for somewhere for us to live'.
This report of the
New South Wales Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council into the needs of
Aboriginal women in custody also found that:
of Aboriginal women were on drugs at the time of the offence. 14% were
under the influence of alcohol and 4% were on both drugs and alcohol
at the time of committing the offence. At least 18% of Aboriginal women
in custody were not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time
of offending, however two of those women said they were heroin users
at the time of the offence were not under the influence of drugs.
In Queensland, however,
only 2 per cent of Indigenous women were imprisoned for drug offences
compared to 15 per cent of the non-Indigenous female prison population.
 The use of illicit drugs is particularly low in
north Queensland.  Instead, 'alcohol is often the
drug of choice for Indigenous female offenders and a contributing factor
to the offence for which they are incarcerated'.
A further significant
factor in the incarceration of Indigenous women is fine defaulting. Different
jurisdictions deal with fine default in different ways, with varying impacts
on Indigenous communities. It is important that the use of fines as a
non-custodial option does not translate into a prison sentence for fine
default. Alternatives for fine default must be developed to ensure that
already financially disadvantaged people are not burdened with impossible
A further concern
about Indigenous women's contact with criminal justice processes relates
to the potential over-policing of Indigenous women. As Chris Cunneen notes:
Surveys of people
held in police custody regularly reveal that Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander women comprise around 50 per cent of all women taken into police
custody in Australia The 1995 Police Custody Survey revealed that
Indigenous women were 58 times more likely to be held in police custody
then non-Indigenous women; by comparison Indigenous men were 28 times
more likely to be held in police custody than non-Indigenous men.
In NSW, 'Aboriginal
people are over represented generally among persons arrested by police'.
In Western Australia:
comprise three-quarters of all women held in police custody and in the
Northern Territory the proportion is close to 90 per cent of those detained.
The police custody survey shows that women in general are detained in
police custody proportionately more for offences of public disorder
than are men, and that Indigenous women are particularly susceptible
to being detained.
Studies in WA also
indicate that once a woman has been arrested it is very likely she will
be arrested again. One WA study showed an 85% likelihood that a woman
would be arrested again, after her first arrest.
tend to receive shorter sentences than non-Indigenous women. General rates
of over-representation tend to indicate that Indigenous women are not
being provided with non-custodial sentencing options. Shorter sentences
also appear to be linked to high rates of incarceration for public order
As Chris Cunneen
notes in relation to developments in the decade since the Royal Commission:
are invariably serving short sentences, many of which relate to fine
default and to convictions for public order offences Although
the offence may be relatively minor, such as swearing in public or drinking
alcohol in public, the full impact of the intervention may well result
in imprisonment in a maximum security prison, particularly if fines
imposed by the court for minor offences are not paid.
A recent NSW report
found that a greater proportion of Aboriginal women were imprisoned
for minor offences than non-Aboriginal women, imprisonment arising from
the failure to pay fines for a range of minor traffic and public transport
offences, such as disobeying traffic signs, driving with an unrestrained
child, travelling on a bus with an incorrect ticket and avoiding railway
In Western Australia,
some 20 percent of the offences for which Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander women were gaoled related to public disorder, including disorderly
conduct, drunkenness and other good order offences. Less than 3.5 per
cent of sentenced non-Indigenous women were in prison for similar offences.
A recent study of
deaths in custody found that a large proportion of women who died in custody
had been detained for good order offences and that over half of the offences
related to public drunkenness. Similarly:
of detention for good order offences was greater for Indigenous women.
One out of two Indigenous women and 28 percent of all non-Indigenous
women who died in custody, were detained for such offences.
The Final Report
of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1991)
noted the high incidence of good-order offences in the criminal histories
of the women whose deaths it investigated. Similarly, in 1995, the National
Police Custody Survey also found that Indigenous people were held in
custody at higher rates than other Australians and that detention for
public drunkenness was a serious problem among Indigenous women in particular.
about connections between public drunkenness and incarceration expressed
in the Royal Commission, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria have yet to
decriminalise public drunkenness. It has been noted,
however, in a Victorian study that Indigenous people have expressed concerns
that decriminalisation of public drunkenness would not produce a fall
in arrests for good order offences:
They believed that
if public drunkenness were no longer an offence, police would simply
use other public order offences and resisting arrest as a means for
detaining or arresting Koorie people.
Payne points to another
problem arising out of the decriminalisation of public drunkenness, in
the absence of accessible, effective centres to house intoxicated people:
By not providing
alternatives to police cells, such as sobering-up centres or detoxification
units for detaining those excessively affected by alcohol, one answer
has been to take them home. It is often the wives, mothers and grandmothers
who are left to deal with the consequent violence and mental and physical
There is currently
discussion about abolishing shorter sentences to imprisonment in Western
Australia in order to deal with Indigenous over-representation in custody.
The Western Australian
Government has recently introduced a bill to Parliament which abolishes
all sentences of 6 months or less. This action was
taken because the Western Australian Government was of the view that 'short
prison sentences serve no useful purpose and that it is more appropriate
to manage such offenders under a community sanction'.
The bill is intended
to reduce imprisonment rates for Indigenous people which were described
by the Minister as a national disgrace. Western Australia had previously
proscribed three month sentences, and required judicial officers to provide
written reasons as to why no other form of punishment was appropriate,
where they sentenced offenders for six months of less. The Government
sees the abolition of sentences of six month or less as a natural progression.
The bill would also reverse a Court of Criminal Appeal decision in 1998,
which ruled that non-custodial options could not be imposed for imprisonable
offences. If the bill is passed this may also contribute to a reduction
in rates of imprisonment of Indigenous women for driving offences in Western
In NSW it is considered
that a similar move would have a significant impact on Indigenous imprisonment
rates. As Chris Cunneen notes:
and women tend to be more concentrated among those serving sentences
less than five years than non-Aboriginal people Although the abolition
of six month sentences would only provide for 82 less Aboriginal male
prisoners and 12 less Aboriginal women prisoners on a particular day,
we could expect that the overall significance would be considerably
greater on the number of Aboriginal people entering the prison system.
Other research has suggested that if Aboriginal people given sentences
of six months or less were given non-custodial sanctions instead, then
the number of Aboriginal people sentenced to prison would be reduced
by 54% over a twelve month period.
In general Indigenous
women in gaol are slightly younger than non-Indigenous women. The majority
are aged between 20 and 30 years old. There are no national figures for
Indigenous women prisoners with children, but a majority of incarcerated
women are mothers. In New South Wales, 54 per cent of incarcerated Indigenous
women are single and 86 per cent have children. 
In Western Australia, 70 percent of Indigenous women had children.
In Victoria, 80 percent of incarcerated Indigenous women were mothers,
most with young children.
also often enter custody with poor physical or mental health. A recent
Queensland report noted:
In general Indigenous
female offenders entering custody have a poor health profile. For example,
Indigenous female offenders report higher rates of sexually transmitted
diseases, higher rates of current pregnancies, higher rates of respiratory
conditions and diabetes and lower rates of contraception use than non-Indigenous
women Mental health problems are reported in similar proportions
both Indigenous and non-Indigenous women Domestic violence is identified
as a health and safety risk for Indigenous female offenders. Indigenous
female offenders represent a significant proportion of female offenders
in incidents of self mutilation (40% of all reported incidents for the
year ending June 1999).
A recent Victorian
study also found that the majority of women incarcerated had dealt with
or were dealing with serious psychiatric or suicide issues.
In Queensland, Indigenous
women are 'over-represented in 'at risk' statistics, admissions to Crisis
Support Units and self-mutilation incidents'.
Research in Victoria
has revealed that many women self harm soon after release from prison.
This includes drug overdose & other types of self harm. In Western
Australia, a recent study noted that 'Self-harming behaviour (such as
cutting oneself) is more prevalent amongst female prisoners, as compared
to their male counterparts. The majority of women (84%) have not self-harmed
since their imprisonment. A higher proportion of Aboriginal women (22%)
than non-Aboriginal women (13%) had self-harmed since entering prison'.
The rates and proportions of women who have self-harmed since imprisonment
is shown below in Table 6.
When asked what led
the women to self-harm or attempt suicide the respondents indicated that
'previous abuse, grief and loss, imprisonment and sentencing, family/relationship
problems, isolation (particularly from family), depression, stress and
a sense of hopelessness were the most common factors'.
are victims of a complex frame of dynamics upon their lives including
violence, poverty, trauma, grief, loss, cultural and spiritual breakdown.
There is a consistent pattern indicating that incarcerated Indigenous
women have been victims of assault and sexual assault at some time in
their lives. A recent NSW study stated:
between Aboriginal women and violence also highlights how the separation
between 'victim' and 'offender' is not clear at all. In reality many
Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system are both offenders
and victims, for example, some 78% of Aboriginal women in prison have
been victims of violence as adults. More than four in ten Aboriginal
women in prison were victims of sexual assault as an adult (44%).
In NSW, Aboriginal
women are over represented as victims of violent crime. In comparison
to a NSW non-Indigenous woman, an Aboriginal woman is:
- Four times more
likely to be murdered;
- More than twice
as likely to be the victim of sexual assault, or sexual assault against
- Four times more
likely to be a victim of assault;
- Seven times more
likely to be a victim of grievous bodily harm.
Consistent with this,
in Western Australia 67 percent of Indigenous women incarcerated in October/November
2001 reported having experienced abuse as children or adults.
factors is a strong argument that Aboriginal women receive poor responses
from police to complaints about violence and other disturbances.
One reason suggested for under-policing in relation to alleged assaults
is a perception that family violence is part of Aboriginal culture or
a 'tribal norm'. Another connected reason is the
view that Aboriginal women are undeserving of police protection.
In 2001, HREOC consulted
with Indigenous women in rural NSW about their experiences with police.
- 'Rapes, bashings
and sexual assault are always overlooked - instead people want to focus
on the crime in the town that sees our kids put on death row.'
- 'The police do
a bad job - they have a hands off approach, they will see a fight and
just drive off in the other direction.'
- 'The police do
nothing in this town, they just drive, stand by and watch people fighting.'
- 'The police do
no community consultation and do not come to any of our meetings, including
our working party meetings.'
- 'Police come to
this town just to get their stripes.'
- 'There is one
female police officer, however she wants nothing to do with women's
issues - if you approach her because you've been bashed by your husband
she does nothing. She is only interested in doing her job as a cop'.
As Chris Cunneen
There are strong
historical continuities in the nature of police responses to Aboriginal
women. For instance the current allegations of police sexual abuse of
Aboriginal women has a direct link with the sexual exploitation of Aboriginal
women during earlier periods of colonisation. Similarly, the failure
to take action against those responsible for violence against Aboriginal
women rests on a long tradition of seeing Aboriginal women and men as
being undeserving of police protection - of being essentially outside
the protection of the law. Thus policing permits violence against Aboriginal
This stands in stark
contracts to 'how police use their discretion to draw Aboriginal women
into the criminal justice system for minor offences'.
Judy Atkinson reports
the following incident in Queensland which shows the complexity of policing
and the burden which falls to Aboriginal women:
A thirteen year
old girl was recently raped in a small Aboriginal community. The child
needed urgent medical attention because of her injuries. The State Police
refused to take her to the nearest hospital which was 30 kilometres
away. They would not investigate the assault, claiming it was the responsibility
of the local Aboriginal Community Police. On the other hand, the Aboriginal
Community Police said they did not have the power to conduct investigations
of this nature and/or make arrests. Finally, an Elder woman was able
to find a car and driver who was willing to drive her and the child
into town to the hospital. There was a paralysis within the community
to the child's urgent medical needs, as well as a paralysis in legal
response to the criminal assault. This paralysis has links to the historical
consequences of previous police inactivity on issues of Aboriginal interpersonal
violence which they label as 'cultural'; the religious attitudes of
missionaries in the community, which promote shame and denial that such
things happen; and the closeness of family relationships in such small
Another aspect in
the relationship between Indigenous women and police is the tendency for
Indigenous women to be seen as criminals. Indigenous
women who seek assistance from police as victims of crime can be vulnerable
to unsatisfactory treatment as a result.
Recent trends in
incarceration also indicate that Indigenous women are increasingly gaoled
for violent assaults, and some commentators suggest there is a relationship
between violent behaviour by victims of violence. Carol La Prairie's investigations
of similar statistics in Canada suggest that there are three ways Indigenous
women living in violent situations may end up convicted of violence offences:
'they may retaliate with violence against abusive family members; they
may resort to drug and alcohol abuse to escape abuse; or their victimisation
may lead to the abuse or neglect of others'.
suggests increased arrest for violence is the result of Indigenous women
who behave violently to protect or defend themselves, because they know
that they would not receive police protection.
also argue that the violent responses to violence by Australian Indigenous
women may be more structured than the retaliation La Prairie suggests.
Customary law punishments
for violent attacks are practiced in many communities, often with the
co-operation of the non-Indigenous legal system. In other communities,
the term customary law punishment may not be used, but physical payback
systems are generally used to settle a dispute or to right a wrong.
Women's violence may not always be so much unsystematic retaliation
as it is implementation of payback or customary law.
This is not an excuse
for violence, but rather a way to understand the violence, to acknowledge
the history which has shaped violent conduct and to recognise the need
to incorporate cultural knowledge and traditional remedies into solutions
for Indigenous women. Recognition of the causes of violence is crucial
to developing solutions.
While there are limits
on the statistics that are available on Indigenous women in corrections,
there is sufficient data to indicate serious problems underlying Indigenous
women's contact with corrections. Historically, however, there has been
little attention devoted to understanding these issues.
There is considerable
diversity among Indigenous women. Identifying the specific causes of incarceration
of the different groups will require further consultation, research and
analysis. However, it is clear that the causes of the rise in rates of
imprisonment of Indigenous women are complex and inter-related.
The reasons derive
in part from a combination of the ongoing impact of colonisation on the
culture, laws and traditions of Indigenous communities, poverty and other
forms of socio-economic disadvantage. This manifests in many ways including
alcohol and drug use, homelessness and violence. Research has identified
a strong correlation between imprisonment of Indigenous women and the
experience of sexual assault and separation from family.
The impact of alcohol related crime, and increasingly in some jurisdictions,
drug related crime requires further investigation.
Poverty and disadvantage
are widely recognised indicators for offending behaviour.
research is needed to confirm the links, Cunneen notes the correlation
between the highest rates of imprisonment of Indigenous people in the
most disadvantaged areas of New South Wales. The ATSIC Murdi Paaki region
(in western NSW) has the highest rate of matters proven before the local
courts. Murdi Parki is also the ATSIC region classified as most disadvantaged
in New South Wales. Kamilaroi region has the second highest rate of Aboriginal
people appearing for local court matters and is the second most disadvantaged
ATSIC region in New South Wales.
In 2000, the Committee
against Torture considered Australia's compliance with the Convention
against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The Committee recommended that:
The State party
continue its efforts to address the socio-economic disadvantage that,
inter alia, leads to a disproportionate number of Indigenous Australian
coming into contact with the criminal justice system.
Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural rights provides for the progressive
realisation of rights to work, housing, food, clothing, health, social
security and education. In 2000 the Committee considered Australia's compliance
with the Covenant and commented on the disadvantage faced by Indigenous
The Committee expresses
its deep concern that, despite the efforts and achievements of the State
party, the indigenous populations of Australia continue to be at a comparative
disadvantage in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights,
particularly in the field of employment, housing, health and education
The Committee encourages
the State party to pursue its efforts in the process of reconciliation
with Australia's indigenous peoples and its efforts to improve the disadvantaged
situation they are in.
A further factor
for the high incarceration rates is the frequency of arrest of Indigenous
women and the frequent use of custodial sentences rather than non-custodial
While the link of
incarceration to factors relating to the impact of colonisation was graphically
illustrated by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody,
this has largely been applied to the experiences of Indigenous males.
Indigenous advocate Sharon Payne has observed the lack of recognition
of difference in representations of Aboriginal women in anthropological
studies. In 1991 she noted:
[I]f they appeared
at all, [Aboriginal women] were portrayed as the passive victims of
white and Aboriginal men alike, and Aboriginal men as the freedom fighter.
Male social and psychological researchers unquestioningly refer to the
compromising of traditional male roles with the domestic or welfare
economy, while describing women as conforming more easily to the welfare
identity, implying that there is no difference between Aboriginal and
Anglo cultures at least in relation to women.
The result has been
an underestimation of the effect of colonisation on women, and a reluctance
to understand and respond to its impact on Indigenous women.
These factors are
compounded by structural issues in relation to effective research and
development of responses to the needs of Indigenous women. Tracking national
trends in crime and sentencing is impeded by the manner in which data
is collected. In smaller jurisdictions such as the ACT and Tasmania, the
actual numbers of Indigenous women from which the statistical data is
derived is comparatively small, compared with the overall offender population.
Statistical measures based on such small numbers may result in outcomes
which appear disproportionate to the true conditions. It is for this reason
that the ABS does not publish rates by sex for a number of the small States/Territories.
This reduces the extent to which meaningful analysis can be undertaken.
The outcomes of the
Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody resulted in Indigenous
status of prisoners being a mandatory data item for collection by corrections
agencies at time of reception into custody. However, the statistical information
provided to the ABS is calculated from data received from a number of
sources, and the methods of data collection and uniformity of those methods
is still seen as an area that can improve further. The ABS standard is
for each person to self-identify based on a standard Indigenous status
question. While overall prisoner data on Indigenous status is seen as
robust, there are concerns that some information is being collected on
the basis of the physical appearance of the subject rather than self identification.
in focusing on the specific situation of Indigenous women have been mirrored
through the international human rights system where recognition of Indigenous
women's identity and experience in human rights discourse is a relatively
new development. The absence of this recognition in the international
human rights instruments is a result of the way in which human rights
were articulated in the post-war era of decolonisation. If the features
of identity of Indigenous women or the human rights which attach to those
features were considered at the time of discussion and drafting, it was
not in any way as a distinct class of rights. Consequently, a catalogue
of Indigenous women's rights must be constructed from the rights as they
were expressed by the drafters at the time, and the comments and recommendations
of the monitoring committees. The linking of these features of identity
and classes of rights in order to accurately represent Indigenous and
other peoples is described as intersectionality.
In a general sense,
intersectionality refers to the connection between aspects of identity,
such as race, gender, sexuality, religion, culture, disability and age.
An intersectional approach asserts that aspects of identity are indivisible
and discussing them in isolation from each other results in concrete disadvantage.
'Intersectional discrimination' refers to the types of discrimination
or disadvantage that compound on each other and are inseparable. In terms
of effective rights-based protection, those who dwell at the places of
intersection of enunciated rights bear the greatest risk. Providing for
people at the intersections means the creation of a more comprehensive
system of rights.
is not understood by merely adding together the consequences of race,
class and gender discrimination. That is, an Indigenous women's life is
not simply the sum of the sexism she experiences because she is a woman
plus the racism she experiences because she is Indigenous plus
the disadvantage she experiences because of poverty and exclusion from
services. A person may be discriminated against in qualitatively different
ways as a consequence of the combination of the aspects of their identity.
between race, gender and class is of particular relevance to Indigenous
women. The kinds of human rights abuses Indigenous women experience will
generally cross the boundaries of race, gender and class at least. For
example, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Issues Unit submitted to the Royal Commission
into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody:
Of particular concern
to the community is the attitude of police officers to Aboriginal women.
During arrest and detention, Aboriginal women are consistently abused,
verbally with terms such as 'black slut' 'whore', etc The attitudes
expressed by police in these instances refer directly to an historical
stereotype which maintains that Aboriginal women can be regarded as
available for the convenience of those in power, and accorded little,
if any, respect.
A recent meeting
of the Expert Committee of the United Nations Division for the Advancement
of Women, reported on Gender and Racial Discrimination. The Expert Committee
recognised the discriminatory impact of criminal justice systems on, inter
alia, Indigenous women, noting the consequent over-representation,
the impact on children and stating the following:
The Expert Group
Meeting discussed the increase in the rates of incarceration of racialised
women in industrialised and developing societies. Incarceration policies
have been addressed by racial justice advocates but this advocacy has
focused predominantly on men. In many countries, racialised women, including
indigenous women, represent the fastest growing segment of the prison
in prison tend to suffer multiple oppression. Many have experienced
violence and other forms of abuse that contributed to their circumstances
leading to their incarceration. Most are low income, and, unlike racialised
men who may have been convicted of violent crime, many have been incarcerated
for non-violent offences, such as welfare fraud. All women, and particularly
racialised women, are more likely to be subject to custodial rape by
police and other criminal justice personnel. They also run the risk
of gender discrimination in the judicial process. Because the majority
of female inmates are mothers, the effects of the increase of female
incarceration will have long-term cumulative adversive effects.
faced by Indigenous women is more than a combination of race, gender and
class. It includes dispossession, cultural oppression, disrespect of spiritual
beliefs, economic disempowerment, but from traditional economies, not
just post-colonisation economies and more. Non-discrimination includes
more than an aspiration for standards identical to those of the dominant
culture; it requires respect for equal respect for difference.
rights mechanisms have begun, albeit belatedly, to request that governments
address specific issues faced by women. They have recognised, for example,
the need to prioritise gender based data in the development and evaluation
of government policies. In 2000, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination noted that 'some forms of discrimination have a unique
and specific impact on women' and announced its intention to 'enhance
its efforts to integrate gender perspectives, incorporate gender analysis,
and encourage the use of gender-inclusive language in its inter-sessional
working methods'. Accordingly, they requested governments:
to describe as
far as possible in quantitative and qualitative terms, factors affecting
the difficulties experienced in ensuring the equal enjoyment of women,
free from racial discrimination, of rights under the Convention. Data
which have been categorised by race or ethnic origin, and which are
then disaggregated by gender within those racial or ethnic groups, will
allow the States parties and the Committee to identify, compare and
take steps to remedy forms of racial discrimination against women that
may otherwise go unnoticed and unaddressed.
rights bodies have requested state parties to collect and provide information
on the conditions which contribute to poverty and disadvantage. In relation
to Article 6 of the ICCPR, the right to life, the Human Rights Committee
requires state parties to provide information on the particular impact
on women of poverty and deprivation that may pose a threat to their lives.
General Comment 28
of the United Nations Human Rights Committee also requires state parties
(or governments) to report on the impact of other forms of discrimination
against women is often intertwined with discrimination on other grounds
such as race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion,
national or social origin, property, birth or other status. States parties
should address the ways in which any instances of discrimination on
other grounds affect women in a particular way, and include information
on the measures taken to counter these effects.
In General Recommendation
19 on Violence against Women, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
Against Women notes the effects of family violence on women and requires
state parties to compile statistics and research on the extent, causes
and effects of violence, and on the effectiveness of measures to prevent
and deal with violence. State parties are required to report on gender
violence, to monitor its impact on women, and to put in place services
and measures to reduce the incidence of violence against women.
Good policy directions
and compliance with human rights standards need to be based on sound and
comprehensive research. The standard of research can be enhanced through
increased liaison between the Australian Bureau of Statistics, crime researchers,
correctional departments and Indigenous peoples.
This section provides
an overview of the specific experiences of Indigenous women in the correctional
system. It is through these experiences that the intersections of race
and gender are most felt.
One of the greatest
impacts of imprisonment on Indigenous women is the disruption to the family
life of children through taking mothers into custody. This disruption
impacts on the women, the children and the community who remain to take
care of the children.
of the separation of mothers from their children through the policies
of forced removal have been thoroughly documented in the Report of the
National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Children from their Families.
institutions have programs which provide for women to have care of their
children (under five years) in prison. In NSW a Mothers and Children Program
exists for women at Emu Plains Correctional Centre and Parramatta Transitional
Centre. The Program consists of a number of options including full time
care, occasional care and care in an alternative supported environment.
Inmates are required to meet certain eligibility criteria.
Of the Indigenous
women surveyed recently by the New South Wales Aboriginal Justice Advisory
Only 2% had ever
used the Mothers and Children program, for occasional care. Many Aboriginal
women had said they had 'never heard of the program before', or 'had
no information about the program, but would probably use the program'
or 'they could not access because they could not meet the required stages',
or 'did apply, but nothing came through, I'm still waiting' or 'currently
trying to access the program'.
The importance of
programs for Indigenous women which provide improved access and care of
their children while in custody was expressed by this woman:
I think there should
be a program for Koori mothers to have their children more accessible
to them, because a lot of Koori inmates have kids and while they are
in gaol they worry that their kids will go to DOCs and never be able
to get them back or it will take time and a lot of effort to get the
kids back when they are released from custody.
A disincentive to
use of the program is that a woman can only have one child with her. Indigenous
women who have more than two children are reluctant to nominate one child
rather than another. In this way, the program is inappropriate for Indigenous
Women had strong
feelings about the ways in which they were able to engage with their children
during visits. 'Many women noted that when they did see their children,
they often felt stripped of the humanity and cultural responsibility as
a mother, and that often access to plain familiar clothes would make a
difference to their children'. One woman said:
wearing the white
overalls while visitors are here makes us feel uncomfortable because
the children ask why we wear them and the overalls make us look ridiculous.
We have visits and we are strip searched before and after the visits.
In Queensland Indigenous
women are subjected to a full 'cough and squat' strip search after every
family and legal visit. Women must decide that in order to see their family
they will undergo this indignity. For women who have been previously sexually
assaulted the search procedure may result in the woman becoming re-traumatised.
In Western Australia,
the mother or primary care giver of a child, less than 12 months of age
may apply to the Superintendent of the gaol to have the child live with
and remand prisoners may apply for permission for their child to reside
in prison. In deciding whether to allow a child to reside in the prison,
the primary considerations will be the maintenance of the custody of
the mother/primary care-giver and the welfare of the child. A secondary
consideration will be the likely impact of the decision on the mother/primary
care-giver during imprisonment or on release.
Human rights instruments
set standards for situations where children are separated from their families
through conditions such as detention. Article 2 of the Convention on the
Rights of the Child provides that:
State Parties shall
take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected
against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of status,
activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal
guardians, or family members.
are not protected against the impact of the discriminatory practices of
over-representation of their mothers in the criminal justice system. They
are not protected against the impact of the status of their parents as
The state has an
obligation to care for the children of women who are incarcerated. As
Winsome Matthews has stated:
A risk assessment
should be conducted to establish the situation of a woman's children
as soon when she enters custody. If a single mother with a young family
is incarcerated, for example, the 12 year old daughter might take on
the role as head of the family. She takes on those cultural responsibilities.
She needs to look after her brothers and sisters, she becomes a child
at risk. The Housing Commission comes and removes the house, because
there is no adult to hold the lease. The children are considered at
risk and DOCS can remove the kids. Or, if no one is paying the rent
while the woman is incarcerated, the woman comes out and there is no
house - the Housing Commission has evicted her because she has outstanding
General Comment 28
of the Human Rights Committee, articulates the obligations of parties
in accordance with Article 9 of the ICCPR, in relation to arbitrary deprivation
of liberty. It states:
who are deprived of their liberty should receive humane treatment and
respect for their inherent dignity at all times, and in particular during
the birth and while caring for their newborn children; States parties
should report on facilities to ensure this and on medical and health
care for such mothers and their babies.
Pregnant women need
prenatal support, support during labour and access to family and their
baby after birth. Contact between mothers and babies is crucial to development
of a physically and emotionally healthy baby. Indigenous women in detention
often present with compromised health. When these women give birth their
children may require hospitalisation in intensive care units until they
are stabilised. It is very important that the mothers of those babies
are able to access their children to breastfeed where possible, bond and
care for the baby.
Article 24.1 of the
Convention on the Rights of the Child states:
State Parties recognise
the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard
of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation
of health. State Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived
of his or her right of access to such health services.
In north Queensland,
Indigenous women prisoners attend the local hospital to give birth. Mothers
are not able to breast feed their babies. The baby is released into the
care of the family if possible, and it is the family's responsibility
to transport the baby to the prison for feeding. Regular transport to
the prison is usually impossible so the baby misses out on the benefits
of breast feeding. The baby's health could be maximised by providing a
method for allowing mothers to breastfeed. A higher standard of health
for the baby, in compliance with CROC would be attainable by a protocol
between the hospital and the correctional institution which sets out procedures
Where women are treated
in hospitals outside the correctional facility, it is important to prove
a standard of care which meets requirements for privacy. In north Queensland,
Indigenous women are brought for health check-ups to the hospital in handcuffs.
Their details are taken at the reception area of the hospital in public
view. There is no secure area of the hospital where the women can be received
in privacy and without the public embarrassment of attending in handcuffs.
If a woman requires
treatment she is handcuffed to the bed by her hands and legs. She is accompanied
by a correctional officer, frequently a man, and the officer is present
while the women is examined, and treated. The
patient's confidentiality is compromised and treatment may also be compromised
if women are not able to express themselves openly in this environment.
General Comment 16
on Article 17 of the ICCPR requires that body searches be carried out
by personnel as the same sex as the prisoner. In the spirit of this right,
same sex security personnel should be provided for escort, and secure
facilities should be provided to ensure confidentiality.
the correctional institution and hospital for dealing with inmates could
prevent this experience for women. A secure area where women could be
received and treated within the hospital may alleviate some of the problems.
A recent survey of
the needs of Indigenous women prisoners in New South Wales, noted the
women in custody required longer visits with family members and significant
others, more appropriate visiting space, and alternative days for visits
to occur. Aboriginal women suggested that access to visits would improve
for Aboriginal women in general if there was additional accommodation
and travel support in particular for families who come from remote areas.
One woman had not received a visit because the public transport system
does not travel from the remote area on weekends, so expanding the visiting
times made common sense, as well as the need to have financial support
for accommodation, especially for families in regional and remote area
Families are often
not aware of the exact location of prisoners, or of conditions attached
to visits. The need for liaison officers to reach communities with information
about their incarcerated family members was stressed.
In Queensland, it
is reported that:
in Brisbane Women's Prison are subjected to a full strip search including
cough and squat after every visit (family - legal). If the Indigenous
woman is menstruating she is required to remove her tampon or pad and
hand it to the screw for disposal. This is an enormous decision for
Indigenous women to make. They have to decide to be subjected to this
indignity and sexual abuse in order to see their family or have legal
counsel Given the sexual abuse statistics constant strip searching
can be life shattering for some women. They relive their previous sexual
assault and become re-traumatised. Some decide not to see their families
because of this Strip-searching is an abusive process for women
screws, as well, they too are women who think, feel and menstruate.
They tend to become desensitised and abusive, stressed or leave, remember
the culture (prison culture) allows 'no weakness'.
Principle 19 of The
Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of
Detention or Imprisonment states:
A detained or imprisoned
person shall have the right to be visited by and correspond with, in
particular, members of his family and shall be given adequate opportunity
to communicate with the outside world, subject to reasonable conditions
and restrictions as specified by law or lawful regulations.
It is arguable that
strip searching, as a condition of a family visit, is not reasonable.
Article 17 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights
also provides that:
No one shall be
subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family
home or correspondence, nor to lawful attacks on his honour or reputation.
General Comment 10
of the Human Rights Committee, in interpreting this provision, states:
So far as personal
and body search is concerned, effective measures should ensure that
such searches are carried out in a manner consistent with the dignity
of the person who is being searched. Persons being subjected to body
search by State officials, or medical personnel acting at the request
of the State, should only be examined by persons of the same sex.
Many women prisoners
are subjected to strip searches for a number of reasons. The practice
has a detrimental impact on women who have been previously assaulted or
sexually assaulted. The following description of strip search practice
gives an idea of the degrading nature of the process.
Prisoners are required
to remove each and all articles of clothing one at a time and hand them
to the prison officer. The prison officer wears rubber gloves and examines
each article of clothing individually, and discards them onto the ground.
'The process of removing ones clothes and having them searched usually
leaves a prisoner standing naked in front of staff and other prisoners
for some minutes'. The following directives are
given by an officer:
1. Bend your head
forward and run your fingers through your hair.
2. Bend your head
back and open your mouth.
3. Remove any
dentures if used.
4. Pull down your
5. Pull up your
6. Lift and wiggle
7. Turn your head
to the right and pull back you ear.
8. Turn your head
to the left and then to the right to (to allow officers to look in your
9. Hold both your
arms out and show the officers the front and back of your hands, between
your fingers and under your arms.
10. Turn around
and pull the cheeks of your buttocks apart.
11. Female prisoners
are required to remove any sanitary device and squat on the ground twice
as well as bending over and pulling the cheeks of their buttocks apart.
12. Lift your
right foot and wiggle your toes.
13. Lift your
left foot and wriggle your toes.
14. Get dressed.
('It is part of the procedure that you are told to "get dressed".
It is the last little insult to demonstrate just how powerless you are
that they even instruct you to put on your clothing.')
Invading the physical
privacy of women in a manner which degrades and humiliates women, especially
women with a history of the degradation of sexual assault fails to provide
the practice in a 'manner consistent with the dignity of the person who
is being searched.'
The following case
study shows the detriment that can result from strip searching women who
are particularly vulnerable to the effect of the procedure.
In September 2002,
Melbourne Coroner Ms Heffey investigated the death of Rebecca Richardson,
a 23-year-old Aboriginal woman who died while inmate of the Deer Park
women's prison in Victoria in 1998.
The inquest heard
that Ms Rebecca Richardson, who was in jail for breaching parole, hanged
herself at the Metropolitan Women's Correctional Centre a day after the
state Government launched a review of prison safety. In July 1998, two
male and two female prison officers strip-searched Ms Richardson and cut
her clothes with a knife after she concealed a drink can believed to be
used as a water pipe for smoking marijuana.
Lawyers for Ms Richardson's
family earlier told the inquest that the strip search was inappropriate
and insensitive, as Ms Richardson had been raped five times in the past
- the last instance while working as a prostitute shortly before her incarceration
in April 1998.
was found hanging by a plastic shower curtain shortly after being put
in an empty cell for assaulting an accommodation supervisor. Ms Heffey
found Ms Richardson simulated suicide because 'she felt extreme remorse
after assaulting Ms (Gail) Johnston, an officer of whom she was very fond'.
Ms Heffey described strip-searching Ms Richardson as 'unnecessary and
invasive'; however, she cleared the former private operators of Deer Park
women's prison of wrongdoing over the death.
often bear great responsibilities to their families and communities even
while in custody. As NSW AJAC notes:
The concept of
responsibility is something that does not seem to leave Aboriginal women
while they are in custody. They are worrying for their family members
(sometimes who they usually provide care for) and children, as well
as being homesick for their community.
Outside of prison
Aboriginal women perform significant roles in their communities and
families as carers. Most of the women (interviewed by AJAC) had children
with approximately one third having between 2 and 4 children and almost
half of them were single mothers. Almost one third of women in prison
(29%) cared for children other than their own biological children. Also
almost (29%) said they were normally responsible for the care of other
people principally their mother, father and other family members.
imprisonment of Aboriginal women has a significant impact on broader
Aboriginal community causing further strain on limited resources and
providing stresses for Aboriginal families. Potentially the removal
of a primary carer can place children and others in situations of greater
risk and without the support of a primary care giver.
A recent survey of
Aboriginal women incarcerated in Sydney gaols found that 73% felt they
would have the support of their family and community on release, but 28%
either felt that would not have this support or were not sure.
The women stated that family and community support was very important.
An individual woman's sense of shame can be a powerful block to accessing
vital support. In some instances women may also be facing payback and
may not tell authorities about it: 'Consequently they may avoid returning
to the community and become itinerant in the next town'. 
experience dislocation from services as a result of incarceration. This
may be experienced as loss of housing and loss of medical or dental programs
find may find that access to services is difficult because of the compound
issues they are faced with. For example:
many domestic violence
shelters exclude people with drug problems, and many hostels exclude
women with children. Given that for women prisoners, coping with drug
related issues and motherhood are often critical to their re-integration
back into the community, these sorts of exclusions can seriously impede
successful re-integration into the general community.
in remote communities suffer particular dislocation from services. Women
from Alice Springs and surrounding areas who are convicted and sentenced
to prison are sent to serve the sentence in Darwin.
Indigenous women in Darwin indicated that a major issue faced by women
incarcerated is the knowledge that they may lose their homes. Culturally
when imprisoned, the women's children are left in the care of their father's
mother and the children are cared for in their grandmother's home. The
father remains in the family home but often, for unknown reasons, does
not upkeep the payments because the children are cared for in the grandmother's
home. The house is generally rented by the women from the NT Housing Commission,
but if the father does not pay the rent, the house will no longer be available
for the woman and her children on her release.
Dr Emma Ogilvie makes
the following observations about housing for inmates:
At present, housing
assistance for prisoners post-release is plagued with difficulties.
it has been noted that even though prisoners may have been suffering
housing crises of homelessness prior to incarceration, they are 'not
currently able to apply for public housing through any of the priority
Segmented Waiting List (SWL) categories because they are not deemed
to be "homeless" in prison' (Victorian Homelessness Strategy
are also involved in prisoners being cut off waiting lists for public
housing, through being incarcerated and hence under 'state care' already
and the fact that prisoners currently inside incarceration are often
not aware of the exact time they may be released (pending parole etc)
and so are unable to apply for public housing while within prison. These
service difficulties are compounded for women as a range of additional
factors come into play, most particularly in relation to the needs of
their children. As noted by the Victorian Homelessness Strategy, for
women, issues of housing usually have to take account of factors such
as the number of children, access to schools, and (often) child protection
agencies (Victorian Homelessness Strategy (b), 2001).
and the loss of accommodation due to incarceration creates one of the
most urgent needs of Indigenous women post-release.
It is not always
to the offender that we need to look to understand the causes of increasing
incarceration. Election driven law and order campaigns primed to drive
up incarceration, a lack of government action to implement the recommendations
of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and lack of
judicial activism to implement the recommendation of the Royal Commission
on non-custodial sentences are some obvious and ongoing causes of over
In some instances,
the causes of over-representation are more complex and profound. Offender
focused answers frequently identify the effects of colonisation as the
cause of offending behaviour. For example, issues such as unresolved trauma,
loss and grief are identified as core problems with 'social issues/problems
such as family violence, crime/imprisonment, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide,
low self-esteem, ill-health, self-haring, etc. etc are in the periphery
and are the symptoms'. Understanding intergenerational
violence, for instance, requires us to consider the impact of colonisation,
the breakdown of cultural norms, and repeated abuse. The symptoms and
the causes need to be identified and addressed.
by Indigenous women must be viewed as a symptom and offenders as the casualties
of colonisation. Seen in the context of surviving colonisation it:
to understand why there are so many casualties in this process; these
are the statistics we always hear about, such as mortality rates, suicide,
mental illness, substance abuse and crime in Indigenous communities.
The latter, of course, is where we come in. The Indigenous offenders
whom we see in our work are the casualties whose problems took a form
where they broke the law. These people are the life-blood behind that
abstract thing I've been referring to as 'indigenous overrepresentation
in the criminal justice system'. This way of looking at the situation
may help us remember to put current Indigenous struggles into an accurate
context, and this in turn can help define the shape that programs for
Indigenous offenders need to take.
Links must be drawn
and holistic models developed and supported which address the connections
between culture, drug use, alcohol use, separation from family, violence,
poverty, spiritual needs, housing, health, boredom, race discrimination
and gender discrimination.
are constructing, reconstructing and participating in programs and models
for dealing with criminal justice issues. These include community policing,
night patrols, Community Justice Panels and Groups, circle sentencing,
and participation in courts such as the Nunga court (SA), Murri court
(Qld) and Koori court (Vic).
Programs have now
been developed and evaluated, particularly around family violence for
women, men and children, and Indigenous participation in drug court trials.
These indicate that it 'is very important to give responsibility back
to the community, through the case management, future planning and post
release programs and services. The community must also be properly supported
in these initiatives'.
have looked to new models and in so doing, look to the past for answers.
One example is the development of restorative justice models to deal with
violent behaviour within communities. Restorative justice models engage
community, victim and offender. The victim's rights to safety and security
are paramount, and the participation of Indigenous Elders is essential.
In Canada, there
has been considerable success with residential Healing Lodges.
A women's centre, Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, is a 30-bed treatment facility
for Canadian Indigenous women located in Cypress Hills, Nekaneet First
Nation. The lodges are based on aboriginal ethics, values and principles,
while maintaining the statutory mandate of the Correctional Services of
Canada (CSC). They were planned in full partnership with the aboriginal
community. The majority of staff, including the wardens, are aboriginal.
A body of aboriginal community members monitors the lodges' operations
and provides advice on further development. Inmates and staff are reported
to be enthusiastic about the lodges; evaluations, to date, have been very
The Healing Lodge
was completed in 1995. Rehabilitation of offenders utilises traditional
healing practices, based on healing through Indigenous teachings and culture.
The central emphasis of the healing program is on survival of physical
and sexual abuse, and freedom from substance abuse, through reconnection
with Canadian aboriginal culture in its broadest sense.
of Canada recently conducted a follow-up of the 412 Aboriginal offenders
admitted to several Healing Lodges. The results showed that 286 or 69.4%
have completed the program (others are still resident in the program).
Of those completing, 6% had been returned to federal custody for committing
a new offence while on conditional release. In contrast, the national
federal recidivism rate was 11% in 1997-98 (for full parole and statutory
release). According to the CSC, this means that the relatively low federal
recidivism rates among Aboriginal Healing Lodge participants are an early
indication of having made a positive impact. It also means that CSC is
encountering some success in its mandate to safely and successfully reintegrate
This approach has
been considered by the Indigenous Services Unit of New South Wales Corrective
Services with the view of developing a similar initiative for Aboriginal
women in New South Wales. The New South Wales Law Reform Commission, during
the course of an inquiry into Aboriginal sentencing, stated that such
an initiative could be enormously effective in rehabilitating offenders,
and in reducing recidivism. The Commission endorsed steps to implement
a facility along the lines of the Healing Lodge. Support has also been
provided for the development of small, residential centres strategically
placed around the state, and run by Aboriginal women, with drug rehabilitation,
strong personal support, and living skills and health programs. In 2000,
the New South Wales Law Society also supported the creation of a residential
rehabilitation facility, offering a holistic program for Aboriginal women
to which they could be diverted from full-time custody.
An organisation called
Yulawirri Nurai Indigenous Association Incorporated has been working with
Indigenous people providing pre- and post-release support since 1996.
Yulawirra have secured land through the Indigenous Land Fund on which
they propose setting up the Yula-Panaal Cultural and Spiritual Healing
Program. Women will be encouraged to have access to or care of their children.
The program will run for three to six months. The proposed healing centre
would meet the most urgent need of women when they are released, that
is housing. But it would also provide respite experience of incarceration,
a chance to begin reintegration into the community and most importantly
an opportunity to identify and heal the issues and traumas which underlie
the offending behaviour.
Programs such as
Yula Panaal Cultural and Spiritual Program need to be supported, and evaluated
in order to continue the capacity building in Indigenous communities,
and the support of Indigenous women post release. Despite the above support
for programs such as this one, the transitional residential program for
Indigenous women offenders remains unfunded.
In Australia, Indigenous
women need a range of services from housing to healing, from counselling
to assistance with sufficient identification to open a bank account to
access Centrelink payments. The profound and the
mundane are equally powerful when it comes to facing post release life.
Chairperson of the
Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council in New South Wales, Winsome Matthews,
gave the following evidence to the NSW Select Committee on the Increase
in Prisoner Population:
When you mention
post release programs, in our community they say the missing in action
person list because you never see them. This is the feedback from the
community but also inmates themselves getting ready for post release.
are disadvantaged by the lack of services designed for them. This is an
example of intersectional discrimination. It is a consequence of a rights
and policy structure which identifies groups of needs and rights holders
such as women and Indigenous people, but fails to provide for the needs
of people who dwell at the intersection of these groups.
It is essential to
recognise and provide for Indigenous women as a distinct group. For too
long women's services have been compromised by a lack of identified programs
and facilities. Women end up having to use either Indigenous men's services,
or mainstream services for women. They are disadvantaged both ways.
In relation to programs
dealing with violence Judy Atkinson notes:
say they have asked for such programs for a considerable time but that
their requests are being ignored by those people in government who are
responsible for implementing a structural response to issues of violence
in society. Most women I work with are feeling that even when they choose
to use the programs and systems being made available, sometimes 'women
only' services, sometimes 'generalist services', these services are
not meeting their needs. The women often experience another level of
It is essential to
recognise the diversity of needs of Indigenous women. While there are
some similarities, women in rural and urban areas will have different
needs, women in remote areas will have different needs again.
There is a need to
provide services and information to women in prison is as soon as they
enter the institution, as well as upon release. Women need to know that
they can keep their house, and that their kids are looked after: 'If she's
stuck in Mulawa, wondering how her kids are - that's a terrible stress'.
Case management for
Indigenous women pre-release is of particular importance. As Winsome Matthews
During the time
the woman is in prison, they need help to do some 'future planning'.
They need future planning so they can aspire to something. They need
something to distract them from the depression and from going back to
crime or the circumstances which caused the problem.
It is very important
to look at the connections between the incidence of sexual assault and
custody. It is essential to set up sexual assault, violence and safety
initiatives in gaols.
inside prison is very important at the pre release stage. It is important
to take a holistic view and look to the individual woman's circumstances.
She needs help with legal issues of family and kids, housing, employment,
training, health and it needs to be linked to post release services
It is important
to take a managed approach to the woman's aspirations. It is important
to be based in culturally and spiritually framed concepts that reduce
dependence on the criminal justice system.
There should also
be recognition that community extends into gaols. Elders recognised this
long ago and have been visiting the large numbers of incarcerated Indigenous
people for many years. Programs like CDEP could be run in gaols.
The many successful
programs now running in communities could be adapted for Indigenous women
in gaol. For many women, gaol is a time of reflection and a time where
culturally appropriate programs would be extremely beneficial.
By contrast, there
is an increasing understanding of the vulnerability of Indigenous women
to the impact of a lack of post-release resources.
that women are at serious risk of self-harm and harm from others in the
period immediately after incarceration. While there is limited research
on this point specifically on Indigenous women, the figures for women
in general give cause for concern:
The high death
rate of those serving community corrections orders is an issue that
is receiving increasing attention. In 1989, Haege noted that the death
rate of people serving community corrections orders was 6 times that
of people in a comparable age group, with the most common cause being
suicide, and the most common period being a few weeks after release
from prison (Haege cited in Aungles, 1994: 207).
conducted by Biles, Harding and Walker (1999) notes that deaths of people
on community corrections orders exceed both prison populations, and
those of the general community, and Cook and Davies (1998) report that
the mortality rate for women on parole is three times higher than that
Similarly, in Victoria:
93 women were identified as dying shortly after release from prison Traditionally
it was not seen as the role for correctional services to take responsibility
for offenders post release and in the past our attempts to reintegrate
women have been minimal. We spend on average $55,000 a year to keep
someone in prison and only about $300 a year on post release. However
this attitude is gradually changing as it becomes clear that structured
pre and post release support has a crucial role to play in intervening
in a cycle of recidivism which results in almost two thirds of offenders
re-offending and returning to the system.
Dr Emma Ogilvie states
that the current state of post-release programmes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous
inmates is 'behind the game'. There is thus a clear need for research
which focuses upon three key criteria:
what purpose we want post release programs to serve,
2. Identifying how best to achieve our specified goals and;
3. Identifying how best to work across organisations in order
to achieve these goals.
A recent survey of
Aboriginal women in NSW found that although 91% had received support to
draw up a pre- and post-release plan, most felt that they needed the support
of an Aboriginal worker who understood their situation.
Indigenous women seek Indigenous-run, culturally and spiritually appropriate
services. Programs for Indigenous women need to be run by Indigenous people,
and be linked into other Indigenous specific programs such as crime prevention
Article 10.3 of the
ICCPR states the duty of the state to provide rehabilitation options for
offenders: 'The penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners
the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation.'
prisoners is a primary goal of pre- and post-release programs. Rehabilitation
is a form of healing. Indigenous-specific programs that currently exist
take an holistic approach aimed at healing on a general level. This holistic
approach requires broad community support and participation. It recognises
that for some women the goal will not be re-integration but 'rather the
challenge of integration as a "new" experience'.
A New South Wales
Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council study suggests that:
were needing to have ongoing support from professionals in a cultural
sense, and calling for more Aboriginal specialists, to provide appropriate
counselling on a one to one basis to help them deal with problems such
as sexual assault and drug abuse issues, especially concerning their
inherent fears upon release and then the ongoing maintenance within
the community, that supports them in their traditional roles as mothers
and family carers. Aboriginal women particularly, felt that local communities,
and Aboriginal female Elders had a rather significant role to play in
Matti Laine reported to the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute
for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders that rehabilitation
must be tailored to the individual:
The idea that we
can find a universal form of rehabilitation has vanished. Matching should
as a general principle of probation services institutions and prisons.
Match the program to the offender and the cognitive style of offender
and the cognitive style of the staff member. These should be matched
as closely as possible. Problems of cognitive injury and damage should
be recognised. The cultural matching of the program to the offender
is important. The elements of the programs and methods must not be culturally
strange to the offenders.
It is important that
rehabilitation be undertaken in prison and continued on release. Rehabilitation
is important of itself, but it is also crucial in preventing recidivism.
Housing has been
identified as the most important basic need of women leaving gaols. Some
women may be able to access public housing, but this needs to be in place
before their release date. Others may not be eligible due to previous
problems with the department. These women need support with at least temporary
accommodation until they are established and can attempt to access to
private housing market. Transition accommodation is perhaps the most important
service for women, especially if they have children. Ultimately,
to live is one of the major problems faced by ex-offenders. Without
an address, it is difficult to claim benefits, almost impossible to
get a job and harder to avoid resorting to crime. The links between
homelessness and offending suggest that a decent ands secure housing
plays a vital part in the resettlement process and in reducing the likelihood
of people committing crime.
A recent report on
homeless Indigenous women in Brisbane noted that:
who are discharged from correctional facilities without support, appropriate
transitional accommodation or money also often find their way to inner
city parks and public spaces. Many would return home but do not have
enough money, and so go to the parks looking for a loan or for company...
These women are vulnerable to a range of factors including re-arrest
for street/public order offences.
Ogilvie notes the
importance of stable housing for women prisoners generally:
can have significant consequences in other areas of the prisoners' life.
For example, satisfactory accommodation arrangements are crucial with
respect to women regaining access to children who have been placed in
'care' situations of one type of another. This can mean that in the
absence of any alternative, some women may feel compelled to return
to violent partners post release (Cook and Davies, 1999). Quite apart
from the extent to which these sorts of issues can be implicated in
criminality - we also need to recognise the extent to which they are
associated with poor health and premature death.
Lawrie notes the
importance of supported accommodation for women seeking rehabilitation
from drug dependency. Noting the success of Drug Court and the MERIT programs,
she states that many Aboriginal women fail to meet the eligibility criteria
have either lived
on the streets or in the inner city regions What is needed is
a supported accommodation service that actively rehabilitates drug usage
by Aboriginal women, that can establish and support the connection between
Coordinator of Guthrie
House, the only half-way house for women in New South Wales, states that
in 1999 she was forced to turn 90 women away, because the half way can
only accommodate 8 women and children. She gave the following evidence
to the NSW Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population:
Our client had
to go some where quite early in the morning and she was on her way to
the station. She walked through Belmore Park near Central and she found
one of our turnaways, a young Aboriginal woman lying on the grass just
waking up from her night's sleep. She had been pretty stoned, drug affected,
and my client stopped to talk to her and ask her how she was going.
The young women replied that she was not going very well, she thought
she would be dead very soon and she was pretty desperate and did not
know what to do.
Indigenous post release
support agency, Yulawirri Nurai has been attempting to launch a post release
transitional residential program for Indigenous women. They have land,
a house and equipment, but are consistently unable to achieve core funding
for the project.
Effective pre- and
post-release programs should include community based, Indigenous specific
programs to help women deal with the effects of violence and to help women
develop alternative strategies for coping with violence in the future.
People require protection from violent behaviour and alternative structures
for prevention and punishment of violent behaviour which provide more
than imprisonment with all its risks and consequences.
After examining the
relationship between victim and offender, Fitzgerald and Weatherburn stated
the urgent need to provide means of dealing with violence without increasing
Indigenous over-representation in the criminal justice system.
In the long term
it is important to address the structural causes of Aboriginal crime
and victimisation (e.g. poverty, unemployment, family breakdown). Levels
of violence and crime in Aboriginal communities, however, are severe
enough to warrant immediate action. Unfortunately the short-term options
for dealing with violent crime are fairly limited. A reduction in alcohol
consumption will help where the violence is alcohol related. The conventional
response to problems such as sexual assault and the sexual abuse of
children, however, is to encourage greater reporting of the offence
so that offenders can be identified, prosecuted and sanctioned. The
difficulty with this option is that, at least in the short term, it
will further exacerbate Aboriginal over-representation in the criminal
justice system. The policy challenge, then, is to find ways of bringing
immediate relief from crime to Aboriginal people (particularly women
and children) without further increasing the already high levels of
contact between Indigenous Australians and the criminal justice system.
have been developing and implementing models such as Strong Culture, Strong
Families (Western Australia). The Kapululangu Aboriginal Women's Association
project is aimed at revitalising cultural practices and principles to
challenge and overcome family violence. The project activities include
a series of camps on traditional bush and cultural experiences including
medicine and food gathering; programs on substance abuse; programs for
young women, young mothers and young families; activities aimed at children
and the community including banners, murals, music and sports programs;
training Aboriginal health workers, teachers, wardens and parents in counselling
and support skills. Programs such as Strong Culture,
Strong families could be adapted to be suitable as an option for Indigenous
women in Western Australia.
The We Al-li project
in Queensland provides a series of educational/therapeutic programs for
workers and for victims and perpetrators of age, gender, race or class
violence. The workshops enable individuals to 'own' their violent experiences
and behaviours, to become aware of the many forms of violence in our society,
and to be empowered to change their own victim/victimising behaviours.
Many people who have been involved in workshops have moved beyond victim/victimising
behaviours. The Central Queensland University is presently negotiating
with Bookoola Research Pty Ltd, the organisation responsible for this
project, to run the programs in Indigenous Therapies. The project received
an Australian Institute of Criminology Crime Prevention Award in 1996.
Evaluation of this project for adaptation into a prison environment may
result in a valuable program for Indigenous women.
The methods for dealing
with violence outside the gaol system, include development of restorative
justice models. Kelly describes restorative justice as follows:
justice program must be framed in the context of Aboriginal community
justice. It must be a grass-roots community initiative. The entire Aboriginal
community must be consulted and involved with eh whole process of establishing
the program .An essential element that must be met in order to
implement restorative justice practices for Aboriginal family violence
is that the rights of the victims must be maintained. The importance
of Aboriginal women Elders and community leaders in facilitating the
process designed to address family violence must be stressed Finally
any restorative justice scheme musty be part of an holistic strategy.
The benefits of a
model which provide for extensive participation by Indigenous Elders will
allow a place for the criminal behaviour to be seen through the appropriate
cultural context. Atkinson notes:
often know the circumstances which are part of offending behaviours.
Elders need to be included in the court/sentencing process. They are
better able to decide on appropriate punishment and treatment for offenders.
Effective pre- and
post-release programs need to recognise and treat the complexity of the
experience of Indigenous individuals who are both victims and perpetrators
of violence. Programs will also need to provide support for Indigenous
women to reintegrate back into the community. The types of support required
by each woman will be determined by her location and other issues. For
instance, for some women there may be issues of payback, and she may not
be able to return to her community until those issues are resolved. Other
women may need to return to small communities, where contact with the
perpetrator of violence cannot be avoided.
Pre- and post-release
programs should include assistance for past injuries suffered by women,
and strategies for dealing with these issues in the future. Where drug
and alcohol use, associated with incidents of violence has become problematic
programs should address these needs.
Tauto Sansbury, Chair
of the National Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee, has identified
the need for programs to assist mothers and children with the impact of
high incarceration rates. He states:
In a population
where incarceration rates have been so high for so long, we need to
consider what the effect of this is upon the next generation - the impact
does not end with the generation that is in prison now...the impact
will continue to be felt by every child who has been deprived of a parent,
who has seen their parent locked up, who has know what it is to fear
the justice system. We know that Aboriginal women are far more likely
to be imprisoned than non-Aboriginal women...we also know that imprisonment
of a mother is more damaging for child than imprisonment for a father.
A child whose parent goes to prison has committed no offence, however,
when a mother is given a jail sentence, a child is given a life sentence.
We are already seeing the effects of family separartion in those families
who were divided by the assimilation policies of the past - yet while
the Government deeply regrets this shameful past, Aboriginal families
are being divided by incarceration in the shameful present.
Women need support
to maintain contact with their children while they are incarcerated. Where
that is not possible, they need to be provided with information as to
the well being of their children. Women need support when they resume
contact with their children. Women need practical advice on how to deal
with family court procedures and departments of community services.
Women in New South
Wales identified a need to have more flexible and more frequent visits
with children and family. Consideration should
also be given to ensuring culturally appropriate residential placements
for children for the duration of their mother's sentence. Women may need
assistance readjusting to their role as mother while re-establishing themselves
in the broader community.
are an integral part of the cultural, economic, and family life of an
Aboriginal clan and community. But the removal of Aboriginal women from
the family and community places a burden on them beyond the loss of one
member of a family unit. Aboriginal clans and communities are already
highly vulnerable and stressed by poor standards of health, housing, poverty
and the loss of men to the criminal justice system. Taking women and mothers
from these family structures leaves an important gap which places further
stress on adults and children.
in custody are ever-conscious of the impact their absence has on the day
to day lives of their families and children. This creates stress on them
during the period of their custodial sentence, and creates additional
stresses on them when they return home. Programs which are sensitive to
the kinship obligations of Indigenous women and supportive of these roles
are important. Indigenous women have identified help with family and community
relationships as an issue they want help with. Sixty percent of women
surveyed in NSW felt that programs dealing with relationships would benefit
A Queensland study
found that in some communities the reintegration of an Indigenous woman
may be complicated by kinship obligations:
payback and retaliation
when the offender returns to the community, particularly if the victim
is still residing there. These issues are often complicated by kinship
issues within the communities... While practices very in different communities,
Indigenous female offenders may be left homeless or their time in secure
custody may be increased. The practice has the effect of punishing the
offender twice for the same offence.
Some women may face
another form of dispossession because of the impact of violent relationships
on their lives. They may not be able to return to their home community,
as a result of their own or other people's violence.
In either scenario, women need support to re-enter potentially volatile
situations. Pre- and post-release programs need to be sensitive to kinship
obligations, and to support Indigenous women to work with their customary
obligations and to positively re-integrate into the community in which
they will live.
There is an absence
of consistent data in relation to educational background of prisoners
available. Research analyst, Margaret Cameron of the Australian Institute
of Criminology notes:
background information on the educational levels of prisoners and whether
they were employed is not available. These questions are included in
the National Prison Census questionnaire, however, they do not appear
to be systematically administered. In some correctional institutions,
for example, prisoners' responses are recorded, while in other the questions
appear to have been ignored completely. Nevertheless, education levels
are important to consider.
the importance of this information for policy and planning of programs,
in view of evidence that unemployment is a predictor for recidivism.
On the issue of employment and education programs within the prison
Cameron notes that 'no formal consideration has been given to the needs
of ATSI women'. Statistical analysis, based on
sound data is required in order for Australia to meet its obligations
to international human rights bodies, and it is important for development
of good policy.
According to a recent
survey of the needs of Aboriginal women in custody:
concern was the one quarter of women who stated that their income came
solely through the proceeds of crime. It is evident that these women
are becoming increasingly entrenched in a cycle of drug dependency,
crime and imprisonment.
The need for education
and training is clear. A recent survey of NSW women noted that 84% of
the women said they would like to work on release.
The high incidence
of health problems among Aboriginal women is an indicator that pre- and
post-release programs should target the health needs of Aboriginal women.
The high incidence of deaths in custody attributable to natural causes
indicates an urgent need for better health care while in custody, and
better health care on release.
There is also a specific
need to address drug abuse among Indigenous women. As the recent study
by NSW AJAC into the needs of incarcerated Indigenous women in NSW stated:
The most significant
findings of this study are the level of serious drug addiction among
women in prison and the causal role that addiction has played in their
current imprisonment. Fundamentally significant is the levels of abuse
that has been suffered by the women and the clear link those women have
drawn between that abuse and their drug use, their drug use and their
current imprisonment It is clear from this study that unless the
abuse experienced by Aboriginal women is effectively addressed they
will continue with their drug habit and continue to offend.
This chapter has
provided a broad overview of issues that Indigenous women face in criminal
justice processes. Due to the general dearth of research and statistics
it is necessarily broad in its focus, and points to areas requiring follow
up action and further investigation. Despite these limitations, what is
clear is that there is a crisis in the level and type of contact of Indigenous
women with correctional systems in Australia. There is insufficient attention
devoted to their circumstances when in custody and insufficient attention
to the environmental factors which contribute to their being in custody
at all. Indigenous women indeed live in 'a landscape of risk' and suffer
at the crossroads of race and gender.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Policy Unit of the Department
of Corrective Services, Queensland, Options for Diversion from Secure
Custody for Indigenous Female Offenders, May 2002, p8.
'Prisoner receptions by sex and race, 1996-97 to 2000-01' in Statistical
Report; Attachment One: Indigenous contact with the Criminal Justice System,
Indigenous Issues Unit, Department of Justice Victoria, 2002, p20.
'Prison Census data records the information gathered from inmates in the
institution on the nominated census day. Examination of quarterly prison
statistics shows that numbers may fluctuate through throughout the year.
Statistics based on reception data includes all prisoners received, and
includes women who may serve short sentences and be absent on the census
date.' Kerley, K and Cunneen, C, op cit, p536.
Department of Justice, Western Australia, 'Receivals (Including Recaptures
following Escape) from 01/01/01 to 30/06/02'. The total number of women
received for the period was 887. There were 459 Indigenous women received
in the period. Twice as many women aged between 20-35 were received into
WA prisons than any other age group.
Australian Bureau of Statistics, op cit. 'Previous imprisonment
rates are an indication of recidivism, although offender may re-enter
prison for reasons unrelated to a prior offence.' Cameron, M, op cit,
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Women's Policy Units of the
Department of Corrective Services, Queensland, Options for Diversion
from Secure Custody for Indigenous Female Offenders, May 2002, p4.
For instance, an inquiry into fines and fine default in each state might
establish whether the recovery of debt, is 'being won at the cost of discrimination
against the poorest individuals and families in community.' Vinson, T,
Comparison of the Sentencing of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Prisoners
in New South Wales, Uniya Social Justice Centre, November 2002, p50.
Sobering-up shelters, incremental repayment schemes for fines, investigation
of discriminatory policing of Indigenous people's use public space could
also provide some benefits.
Fitzgerald, J and Weatherburn, D, 'Aboriginal Victimisation and Offending:
The Picture from Police Records', Crime and Justice Statistics,
December 2001, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Bureau Brief,
ibid. See also Drugs and Crime Prevention: Inquiry into Public
Drunkenness, Final Report, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee, Parliament
of Victoria, June 2001 Government Printer for the State of Victoria, Melbourne,
Payne, S, 'Aboriginal Women and the Law', in Women and the Law,
Weiser Easteal, P and McKillop, S (Eds), Proceedings of a conference
held 24-26 September 1991, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra,
The Sentencing Legislation Amendment and Repeal Bill passed the
House of Assembly and was read in the Legislative Council on the 3 December
2002. The bill will be considered by Council when parliament resumes on
25 February 2003.
Cunneen, C, NSW Aboriginal Justice Plan - Discussion Paper, op cit,
p27 citing Baker, J, 'The Scope for Reducing Indigenous Imprisonment Rates'
Crime and Justice Bulletin No 55, New South Wales Bureau of Crime
Statistics and Research, Sydney 2001.
Fitzgerald, J and Weatherburn, D, 'Aboriginal Victimisation and Offending:
The Picture from Police Records', Crime and Justice Statistics,
December 2001, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Bureau Brief,
Atkinson, J, 'A Nation Not Conquered' in Indigenous Law Bulletin,
vol 3, at http://www.law.unsw.edu.au/centres/ilc/ilb/vol3/may/atkinson.html#commissions
Wooten, J H, Commissioner the Honourable, Regional Report of Inquiry
in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, Royal Commission into Aboriginal
Deaths in Custody, AGPS, Canberra, 1991.
Kilroy, D, Sisters Inside Inc, The White Wall Syndrome: An Indigenous
Framework for Practice Operating within the Women's Prison. Paper
presented at Best Practice Interventions in Corrections for Indigenous
People Conference, Sydney, Australian Institute of Criminology, 8-9
October 2001, p7.
Director General, Western Australian Department of Justice, Prisoner
Mothers - Primary care Givers and their Children, 14 May 2001. Primary
care-givers are defined as individuals, either male or female, who are
responsible for the custody or care of a child or children.
Telephone consultation, 6 December 2002. Practical alternatives such as
expressing milk should be explored. Hospitals could develop a secured
area for women prisoners. This could provide some privacy for women, babies
Adapted from Appendix A, Strip Searching of Prisoners, Minogue, C, 'An
Insider's View: Human Rights and Excursions from the Flat Lands' in Brown,
D and Wilkie, M, (Eds) Prisoners as Citizens, Federation Press,
Sydney, 2002 pp 209-10.
Adapted from Milovanovic, S, 'Prison cleared over inmates death' The
Age, September 10 2002, http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/09/09/1031115997628.html.
Ogilvie, E, Post Release: the Current Predicament and Potential Strategies,
Morseu-Diop, N, 'You say you hear us, but are you really listening or
are we just noise in the distance?' Australian Institute of Criminology,
Best Practice Interventions in Corrections for Indigenous People Conference,
Sydney, 8-9 October 2002, p3.
Jones, R, 'Indigenous Programming: A National and International Literature
Review', Australian Institute of Criminology, Best Practice Interventions
in Corrections for Indigenous People Conference, Sydney, 8-9 October 2001,
The following material on the Healing Lodges is from Cunneen, C, The
impact of crime prevention on Aboriginal Communities, Institute of
Criminology, University of Sydney, September 2001, pp118-20.
Interim Report: Issues Relating to Women, Select Committee on the Increase
in Prisoner Population, July 2000, NSW Legislative Council, p146. See
Recommendation 6.192: 'The Minister for Corrective Services ensure that
any issues relating to an inmate requiring identification when released
from prison, such as for Medicare, Centrelink and the opening of bank
accounts, are part of the inmate's case management plan and are resolved
prior to release. This should occur in all prisons. This should be extended
to include all dependent children.'
Laine, M, 'Some old and some new experiences: Criminal justice and correction
in Finland', Principal Lecturer at Prison Personnel Training Centre, Finland.
109th International Training Course Effective Treatment Measures for Prisoner
to Facilitate their Reintegration into Society. UN Asia and Far East Institute
for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders. www.unafei.or.jp\
National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (UK) in
Dutreix, C, Offenders Aid and Rehabilitation Services, SA, Women's
Accommodation Support Service and other Post Release Issues from a Client
Perspective, Best Practice Interventions in Corrections for Indigenous
People Conference, Australian Institute of Criminology, Sydney, 8-9 October
Coleman, A, 'Sister, it Happens to Me Everyday: An exploration of the
needs of and responses to, Indigenous Women in Brisbane's Inner City Spaces',
Brisbane City Council, the Department of Families, the Department of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Policy and the Department of Premier and Cabinet,
Office for Women, 2000, p13.
CEDAW General Recommendation 19, Specific recommendation 24 (k) States
parties should establish or support services for victims of family violence,
rape, sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence, including
refuges, specially trained health workers, rehabilitation and counselling.
Fitzgerald, J and Weatherburn, D, 'Aboriginal Victimisation and Offending:
The Picture from Police Records', Crime and Justice Statistics,
December 2001, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Bureau Brief.
Queensland Report, p23.This report was provided but it has no title page,
so the title is unknown. The effects of customary law and customary practice
may be that the offender is punished twice, unless prior arrangement is
made with authorities. It is important that this effect is noted.