Indigenous women numbers rising in Australia’s prisons


By Lily Greer
Produced for online by Emily Halverson

Prison numbers show spike in Aboriginal women being jailed. Image courtesy of Jobs For Felons Hub via flickr.com

A new study says Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander women make up 34 per cent of the female prison population but only two per cent of Australia’s female population.

The Human Rights Law Centre has today released a report outlining 18 recommendations to the government aimed at reducing the amount of Indigenous women in Australian prisons.

Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre director Adrianne Walters says unfair laws are impacting Indigenous communities more than others.

“[There] are laws, like the Fine Default Imprisonment law in Western Australia… that see aboriginal women disproportionately locked up because they can’t pay fines.”

Recommendations in the report include overhauling police education, amending bail laws to lessen the impact on children and reviewing the laws which see so many indigenous women incarcerated.

Ms Walters says 80 per cent of jailed Indigenous women are mothers.

“So when you take a woman into custody, even if it’s just for a short time, the impact on her life and the life of her children and other family members can be devastating,” she said.

“It’s condemning future generations to cycles of disadvantage and imprisonment.”

Ms Walters is calling on the government to move away from a punitive, hard-lined approach, to community-led prevention that will lessen the likelihood of re-offending.

“Community-led prevention and early intervention initiatives [are] all based around addressing the challenges in women’s lives, like family violence, homelessness [and] poverty that contribute to offending, and that makes it less likely that they’re going to reoffend.”

Caxton Legal Centre representative Scott McDougal says little access to Legal Aid is a huge disadvantage to Indigenous women facing charges.

“We are particularly trying to accommodate indigenous clients as well in recent years, so domestic violence, family law [and] civil law – all of these things can impact on a person’s quality of life.”

He says permanently reversing the planned funding cuts to Legal Aid in Queensland is a positive step towards reducing these rates.

“At the moment we have governments who say they are concerned about indigenous over-representation, yet are willing to bend to the law-and-order agenda which ultimately results in more aboriginal people going to jail.”

The rates of imprisonment for Indigenous women have risen 250 per cent since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody that began in 1987.


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