Select from any of the filters or enter a search term

Spiral of circumstances sends women to prison

Spiral of circumstances sends women to prison

By Karin Derkley

Sentencing Women's Rights 



Almost every woman in Victoria’s prisons has a background of poverty, disadvantage and gendered violence, a conference heard this week.

And without support and secure housing many end up back in prison soon after they are released, the panel session “Putting women’s prisons out of business” convened by the Law and Advocacy Centre for Women (LACW) and the Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ) heard.

There are 60 per cent more women in prison in Victoria than there were in 2007, with a 17 per cent jump in the 12 months to 2017, says the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

This is partly because women are being caught up in over-zealous policing of family violence issues, according to panel member Magistrate Ann Collins. She told of a 25-year old woman charged with breaching an intervention order after she returned to her partner who was threatening to kill himself.

LACW principal legal officer Jill Prior said that family violence sets in train a spiral of circumstances that often ends up with women incarcerated. Almost all the centre’s clients have experienced family violence, with many arrested after being involved in a family violence incident, she said.

“It doesn’t take much to imagine the young woman Magistrate Collins spoke of becoming homeless, stealing to self medicate with illicit substances, and then ending up at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre.”

Women were often ashamed to tell the story of how they came into their situation when they were charged and brought before a court, advocate and Aboriginal Elder Cheryl told the session. “That's why we don't hear more from victims, because women are too ashamed to say they've been bashed by their husbands or their brothers. They get sentenced without the full story."

Women also go to prison as a result of breaching Community Corrections Orders they were not in a position to abide by, Cheryl added. Women without secure homes lived chaotic lives that made it hard to keep required appointments. When they were released from prison they often had no support and nowhere to live.

“These women are set up to fail,” she said. “They're left in the community with no support. If you don't have a home, you're disconnected from family, and you're likely to go straight back to prison."

Court could be a place to provide support if magistrates are made aware of what the issues were for the women coming before them, said Magistrate Collins. “We’ve seen how well things can work with the Koori Court and with ARC [Assessment and Referral Court List] which provide a better process where people are supported.”

Magistrate Collins called for pilot projects to be expanded across Victoria that support women in their transition from prison back into the community. She cited the Wulgunggo Ngalu Learning Place in Gippsland where Koori men can live while they undertake Community Correction Orders as a successful model that could be emulated.

Safe secure housing was the most important factor in keeping women out of prison, the session was told. “I heard a terrible rumour that there's a new women's prison being built,” Ms Prior said. “I hope it's not true. It doesn't take too much to imagine where that money could be invested instead."

“It's about what kind of system we want,” she added. “If there's a desire to take advantage of people who are visible to the criminal justice system, to utilise the resources that are in place through time and intervention, to make real change, then we could do it.”

A government spokesperson for the Minister of Corrections said there are currently no plans to build a new women’s prison.

Views expressed on (Website) are not necessarily endorsed by the Law Institute of Victoria Ltd (LIV).

The information, including statements, opinions, documents and materials contained on the Website (Website Content) is for general information purposes only. The Website Content does not take into account your specific needs, objectives or circumstances, and it is not legal advice or services. Any reliance you place on the Website Content is at your own risk.

To the maximum extent permitted by law, the LIV excludes all liability for any loss or damage of any kind (including special, indirect or consequential loss and including loss of business profits) arising out of or in connection with the Website Content and the use or performance of the Website except to the extent that the loss or damage is directly caused by the LIV’s fraud or wilful misconduct.

Be the first to comment