The drivers behind the growth in the Australian imprisonment rate
The imprisonment rate in Australia has risen over the last 30 years.
Imprisonment rates are linked to the level of criminal activity, changes to
justice policies and practices, and social and economic factors such as
poverty, levels of substance abuse, unemployment, and levels of social and
community cohesion. The following discussion provides an overview of the rate
of imprisonment in Australia and canvasses the issues linked to changes in the
Rates of imprisonment in Australia
There were 114 custodial facilities across Australia at 30 June 2012 of
which 87 are government-operated prisons, eight are privately operated prisons,
four are transitional centres, one is a periodic detention centre and 14 are
24-hour court-cell complexes.
In addition, all jurisdictions provide community corrections services which are
responsible for non-custodial sanctions and deliver post-custodial
On average, 29,213 people per day (excluding periodic detainees) were
held in Australian prisons during 2011–12. This was an increase of 1.7 per cent
over the average daily number in 2010–11. The daily average prison population
in 2011–12 comprised 92.9 per cent males and 7.1 per cent females.
The number of unsentenced (those on remand) prisoners comprised 23 per
cent of the total prison population at 30 June 2012. Over half (55 per cent) of
all prisoners had served a sentence in an adult prison prior to the current
As at 30 June 2012, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners comprised
just over a quarter (27 per cent or 7,982) of the total prisoner population.
The age standardised imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander prisoners was 1,914 per 100,000 adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
population. This was 15 times higher than non-Indigenous prisoners for
whom the age standardised imprisonment rate was 129 per 100,000 adult
The most common offences for sentenced male prisoners were acts intended
to cause injury (17 per cent) and sexual assault (15 per cent) while for
females the most common were illicit drug offences (17 per cent of female prisoners)
and acts intended to cause injury (14 per cent).
Trends in imprisonment rates
Australia's adult imprisonment rate was 168 per 100,000 adults at 30
This compares with 734 and 154 per 100,000 population in the United States and
the United Kingdom respectively in 2010.
While the Australian imprisonment rate is significantly less than that
of the United States and comparable to the United Kingdom, the rate has been
increasing over recent decades. In 1984, the rate of imprisonment was approximately
86 per 100,000.
Since that time the rate has nearly doubled. While there was a recorded
decrease in the rate of imprisonment between 2010 and 2011, the rate increased
11 per cent over the last ten years.
All states and territories, with the exception of New South Wales and
Queensland, recorded increased imprisonment rates compared to 2002, with
fluctuations in imprisonment rates occurring within this ten year period. The
Northern Territory recorded the largest percentage increase in the imprisonment
rate between 2002 and 2012, rising 72 per cent (from 480 prisoners per 100,000
adult population to 826 prisoners per 100,000 adult population). Western
Australia had an increase of 37 per cent (from 195 to 267 prisoners per
100,000 adults). The imprisonment rate in Queensland decreased between 2002 and
2012 (down 6 per cent, from 168 to 159 prisoners per 100,000 adults). The
imprisonment rate in New South Wales also decreased – down 1 per cent (from 172
to 171 prisoners per 100,000 adults).
As noted above, the Northern Territory has had the highest increase in
the rate of imprisonment for the period 2002 to 2012. The Northern Territory
also recorded the highest proportional increase in prisoner numbers between 2011
and 2012 – 11 per cent. The prisoner population decreased by 4 per cent in New
South Wales and by 3 per cent in Tasmania between 2011 and 2012.
The fastest growing area of the prison population is women prisoners.
While the overall prison population increased 1 per cent during 2011–12, the
number of female prisoners increased 8 per cent. The female imprisonment rate
increased at a rate 21 times higher than the male rate.
Trends in re-offending rates
The Report on Government Services provides information on adult
offenders released from prison who returned to corrective services within two
years. For those released nationally in 2009–10, 39.3 per cent had returned to
prison by 2011–12, while 46.1 per cent had returned to corrective services. The
Northern Territory had the highest rate of return to prison (52.4 per cent)
while the ACT had the highest rate of return to corrective services (56.1 per
cent). South Australia recorded the lowest rate of return for both classes of
returning prisoners (29.1 per cent and 41.3 per cent respectively).
The rate of return to prison under sentence has remained relatively
stable since 2007–08 at about 40 per cent.
Trends in incarceration of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that there were 7,979 prisoners
who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander at 30 June 2012.
This represented just over one quarter (27 per cent) of the total prisoner
population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoner numbers increased by
4 per cent between 2011 and 2012. The highest number of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander prisoners was in the Northern Territory (84 per cent of the
total prison population) and the lowest in Victoria (8 per cent).
The age standardised rate of imprisonment for Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander prisoners was 15 times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous
prisoners at 30 June 2012, an increase in the ratio compared to 2011 (14 times
higher). The highest ratio of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander to non-Indigenous
imprisonment rates in Australia was in Western Australia (20 times higher for
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners). Tasmania had the lowest ratio
(four times higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners).
Between 2002 and 2012, imprisonment rates for Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Australians increased from 1,262 to 1,914 Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander prisoners per 100,000 adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander population. In comparison, the rate for non-Indigenous prisoners
increased from 123 to 129 per 100,000 adult non-Indigenous population.
There were proportionally more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
prisoners than non-Indigenous prisoners with prior imprisonment. Nearly
three-quarters (74 per cent) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners
had a prior adult imprisonment under sentence, compared with just under half
(48 per cent) of non-Indigenous prisoners.
Trends in offending behaviour
In some jurisdictions, the growth in imprisonment rates may be linked to
an increase in offending behaviour. For example, the Youth Justice Advisory
Committee stated that over the last five years offending behaviour has
increased in Alice Springs. This includes a 173 per cent increase in break-ins and
an 80 per cent increase in motor vehicle theft. Overall, criminal offences
increased 45 per cent over five years.
However, in other jurisdictions crime rates have declined. In New South
Wales, between 1990 and 2010, the rate of murder decreased 50 per cent, motor
vehicle theft decreased 70 per cent and robbery with a firearm declined 66 per
In Victoria, crime rates have declined by an average of 18.4 per cent over the
last 10 years. The St Vincent de Paul Society noted that 'taking
national averages, it seems that violent crime has not increased over the last
20 years, while property crime rates have dropped significantly'.
Some shift in the type of crime being attributed to certain groups was
noted, with the Youth Justice Advisory Committee stating that property crime
had been the main reason for youth offences in the Northern Territory but this
has now shifted to personal violence offences.
Jesuit Social Services argued that there is ample evidence that the
Australian rate of imprisonment is largely independent of the incidence of
crime. Jesuit Social Services concluded that the rate of imprisonment is:
...more a function of policy, the length of sentence imposed
(and their summation) and, at any given time, the size of the operational
This view was supported by other submitters including the National
Association of Community Legal Centres which stated that the continued growth
in imprisonment rate, despite falling crime rates, has been attributed to the
introduction of harsher sentencing policies and political responses to social
concerns about levels of crime.
Drivers behind the growth in the Australian imprisonment rate
As noted above, while crime rates have declined the rate of imprisonment
has increased. Factors contributing to the rate of increase include changes to
justice policies and practices including mandatory sentencing and more
stringent bail conditions. There are also underlying economic and social
determinants which contribute to criminal behaviour and thus bring people into
contact with a more punitive criminal justice system.
The following section canvasses the drivers to the growth in the
Australian imprisonment rate.
Changes to the justice system and
attitudes to incarceration
Evidence received noted that the public response to crime in Australia
has grown increasingly punitive. Generally, the public perception of crime is
at odds with the actual incidence and trends in crime. This is attributed, in
part, to the portrayal of crime in the media, especially more violent and
The Australian Justice Reinvestment Project stated many of the changes to
judicial policy, such as mandatory sentencing, parole changes and restrictions
to bail, have followed 'media-driven law and order campaigns around individual
cases or as part of election campaigns seeking to demonstrate "tough on
crime" credentials and sympathy towards victims of crime'.
Submitters commented that the growth of incarceration rates and 'tough
on crime' policies are linked. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) commented:
Crime rates have not been the driving force behind the growth
of Australia's imprisonment rate. There has been no spike in the crime rate to
which we can attribute such a significant increase in incarceration. Nor have
increased incarceration rates led to any drop in the crime rate. Rather, the
steady increase in imprisonment rates has been the result of legislative and
policy changes implemented under the catch cry of being "tough on crime".
'Tough on crime' policies have been pursued in most jurisdictions. For
example, it was submitted that the South Australian Government runs a 'tough on
crime' policy that has resulted in increased penalties and the introduction of
aggravated offences which also carry increased penalties.
Jesuit Social Services provided the example of Victoria and stated that recent
'tough on crime' policies in Victoria had resulted in an increase of average
daily prison population of 5.3 per cent compared to a national increase of 1.3
per cent between 2010–11 and 2011–12.
Similarly, Queensland has recently introduced more punitive measures by
introducing legislation that increased the use of mandatory life sentences for
certain sentences and standard non-parole periods.
It was also noted that the Western Australian Government has increased
investment in prisons and has undertaken a 'tough on crime' approach including
mandatory sentencing, minimum terms, and reduced parole. Despite these changes,
there has been no reduction in offending rates or in recidivism rates.
In the Northern Territory, multiple governments have pushed for a more
penalty driven justice system. The Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid
Service (CAALAS) submitted that 'successive Northern Territory Governments have
emphasised increased policing and tougher sentences as a key policy platform'.
This has continued despite evidence presented that these policies were
increasing incarceration rates.
It was further noted that a culture of incarceration is developing in the Northern
Territory: imprisonment is not being used as a last resort; and bail is not
granted to certain types of offenders who should be able to be sentenced to
Mr Peter Collins, Director of Legal Services, Aboriginal Legal Service
of Western Australia Inc., provided the following example to illustrate a
culture of incarceration:
In 2005, I appeared for a 16-year-old boy from a place called
Onslow who spent 12 days in custody for attempting to steal a $2.50 ice cream.
In 2009 I appeared for a 12-year-old boy who had never been in trouble who was
charged with receiving a Freddo frog worth 70c. He did not come to court,
because his mum got the dates confused, and he was remanded in custody. The
police eventually withdrew that charge but defended the decision to prosecute
on the basis that 'it was technically correct'.
The committee heard that the persistence of these punitive measures has
directly resulted in the increased growth in rates of imprisonment due to 'the
limited availability of non-custodial sentencing options, the limited
availability of rehabilitative programs and a judicial and political perception
of the need for "tougher" penalties.'
The South Australian Department for Correctional Services noted that the
average length of sentences has increased. This contributes to increased
...the number of prisoners in custody is primarily determined
by the decisions of the Courts where in general, the key factors driving
overall prisoner numbers are the numbers of offenders charged or sentenced to
custody for serious offences and the length of sentences they receive. Average
sentence lengths have increased from 66.4 months in 2007/8 to 70.6 months in
The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples noted that a study in
New South Wales found that there was a rise in imprisonment rates between 2001
and 2008 but there had not been a corresponding rise in the conviction of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples over this period. It was reported
that this was due to changes in the justice system's response to offences
rather than changes in offending itself.
Mandatory sentencing has been introduced in Western Australia and the
Northern Territory. The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) noted that mandatory
sentencing laws limit judicial discretion in sentencing and prevent courts from
taking account of the cultural backgrounds and responsibilities of offenders,
and the economic and social issues they face. The HRLC went on to comment that:
The arbitrary nature of mandatory sentencing laws is also
compounded by some aspects of police practices. The exercise of police and
prosecutorial discretion effectively determines whether or not an offender is
subject to a period of imprisonment.
The St Vincent de Paul Society commented that mandatory sentencing
'disproportionately affects those who are compelled to have no choice but to
commit crimes, for example, the mentally ill, those experiencing extreme
poverty and children and young people'.
The Top End Women's Legal Service also commented on the use of mandatory
sentencing laws and stated that they are likely to greatly increase the length
of sentences imposed for violent offences and thus, significantly increase the
A further issue with mandatory sentencing laws raised by NATSILS was
that they may actually increase the likelihood of reoffending as periods of
incarceration diminish employment prospects, positive social links, and other
protective factors that help prevent recidivism.
The Chief Magistrate of the Northern Territory provided the committee
with evidence of incarceration rates as a result of the imposition of mandatory
sentencing in the Northern Territory during the period 1997 to 2001. The Chief
Magistrate noted that the imprisonment rate was 50 per cent higher during this
period than following repeal of the laws. Non-custodial orders such as
home-detention and community work were almost unused for property offences
during the mandatory sentencing era.
In 2008, mandatory sentencing was introduced for first time assault
offenders where the injury interferes with a person's health and results in
'serious harm'. Mandatory sentencing also exists for drink driving and drug
driving offences and for breaches of Domestic Violence Orders. The Chief
Magistrate noted that as acts intended to cause injury account for a
significant number of matters before the Court in the Northern Territory, this
could significantly affect imprisonment rates. In addition, in 2013, mandatory
imprisonment periods were introduced for serious assaults and repeat offenders.
Again, the Chief Magistrate stated that these changes are likely to result in
significantly increased imprisonment rates particularly in regards to Aboriginal
Bail and remand
Changes in the criminal justice system have made it difficult for
offenders to comply with strict conditions such as stringent bail conditions.
An offender may be unable to meet bail conditions and may be remanded in custody
for conditional or technical breaches of bail. The occurrence of bail being
granted is decreasing, with offenders being refused bail due to an absence of
appropriate accommodation or the lack of a responsible adult who can
appropriately care for them.
CAALAS provided the committee with information about changes to bail
practices in the Northern Territory. In 2003, 230 breaches of bail were
recorded in the Northern Territory. In 2010–2011, 1442 breaches were recorded.
In March 2011, the Bail Act (NT) was amended to include a new offence of breach
of bail. As a consequence, 2431 breaches were recorded in 2011–12. CAALAS
stated that this represents a rise of 67 per cent over a single year and the breach
of bail offence provision has meant that more people have been serving longer
sentences in Central Australia.
NATSILS noted that in certain areas of Australia, if bail is breached
and the offender is remanded, there are no legislated limits on the terms of
remand, leading to a disproportionate amount of time the offender spends in
prison. NATSILS submitted that, with increased court congestion, many offenders
end up serving longer periods on remand than the sentence they eventually
receive on conviction.
Parole, strict compliance and
NATSILS and CAALAS drew the committee's attention to the impact of
'strict compliance' approaches to supervision and monitoring. NATSILS noted
that in several jurisdictions, probation and parole officers are subject to
internal guidelines which remove any element of discretion, and require all
breaches to be reported, however minor. As a consequence, there are high rates
of parole revocations. For example, in the Northern Territory in 2011, of the
46 parole revocations, only five were for offending. All the remainder were for
breached conditions which may have been for single instances of failing to
report at the required time, being exited from a residential rehabilitation
program, or travelling without permission.
NATSILS also noted that in some jurisdictions, it is required that
'street time' be served out in the event that parole is revoked. Thus a
prisoner whose parole has been revoked must serve the total number of days that
were outstanding against his or her sentence at the date they were first released
on parole. In some cases, this has resulted in individuals serving total
periods of supervision that exceed the original full term date of their
sentence by months or years.
In addition, because of the strict compliance requirements and street time
provisions, probation and parole officers have become increasingly reluctant to
recommend parole for those prisoners where it is perceived there are barriers
to the successful completion of parole. NATSILS concluded that:
Such policies impact disproportionately on vulnerable
parolees with unstable living arrangements, limited financial means, and
support networks that lack understanding of the parole process. Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander parolees face additional barriers to achieving or successfully
completing parole, especially in cases where an individual does not speak
English or seeks to reside in a remote or regional community.
Other factors contribution to
increasing rates of incarceration
Submitters also noted that increased police presence in remote
communities, as a result of the Territory Emergency Intervention, has been
linked with the rising rate of imprisonment from 2007 onwards.
CAALAS commented that the greater police presence in many communities has led
to the effective criminalisation of driving, with police targeting unlicensed
drivers and vehicles without registration or insurance.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) commented:
Of particular concern, research has also found there has been
a 62% increase in the recorded traffic and vehicle regulatory offences.
According to analysis by Dr Thalia Anthony, the majority of these offences do
not involve alcohol or lead to harm. Instead, they are regulatory offences such
as not having a driver's license, driving unregistered or in an unroadworthy
vehicle. According to Dr Anthony "the common trifecta is driving
unlicensed, driving unregistered and driving with an unroadworthy
vehicle." When these offences are prosecuted together there is a strong
possibility of a custodial sentence.
As a consequence of greater policing, approximately 25 per cent of the
Northern Territory prison population comprises driving offenders, of whom
approximately 97 per cent are Aboriginal.
The AHRC concluded:
Enforcement of traffic offences has a role to play [in] increasing
safety. However, it also needs to be acknowledged that the lack of public
transport, access to suitable vehicles and licensing services in remote
communities disproportionately disadvantages Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people in the Northern Territory.
Sisters Inside also commented that over policing can lead to further
charges being laid against the person:
Over policing does not reduce crime in these communities or
make them safer to live in, rather it creates a net-widening effect. There are
many low level crimes that are often undetected and untargeted in
non-Indigenous communities, however net-widening often results in these crimes
being detected and charged within Indigenous communities. In addition,
increased interaction with the police increases the risk that charges will
become escalated with an individual also being charged with offences such as
resisting arrest and assaulting police.
The Chief Magistrate of the Northern Territory noted that mandatory
reporting requirements have increased reporting of crime in the Northern
Territory. This relates to domestic violence as well as mandatory reporting
requirements for children. The Chief Magistrate commented:
Increased reporting does not alone signify an increase in
crimes committed, only crimes recorded. In this sense the growth in
imprisonment rates brought about by increased reporting may be a positive
change. Additionally, mandatory reporting allows for the community to take
responsibility for violence. However, there are also concerns that it may deter
victims from seeking medical treatment and whether it has in fact increased
rates of reporting.
White Ribbon also commented that there has been a significant increase
in domestic violence reporting and police response rates to family violence
offences in all jurisdictions. White Ribbon stated that '[a]lthough it is
difficult to conclude whether the increase is reflective of increases in the
incidence of violence, it is arguable that this increase in reporting will lead
to further pressure on the prison system as increases in prosecution ensue'.
Economic and social determinants of crime
The Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland stated that a number of
social and economic drivers relating to the growth of imprisonment rates in
Australia have been identified over the years in numerous reports and academic
journals. These drivers include:
- socio-economic conditions such as poverty;
- low or under education;
- lack of employment opportunities;
- mental health issues;
- lack of appropriate housing;
the increasing availability and use of alcohol and drugs;
- the increase and diversity of the population and the challenges
- social exclusion; and
- systemic discrimination.
Submitters pointed to the study by Tony Vinson in 2007 which highlighted
the association between crime and disadvantage, indicating that the bulk of
crimes are committed by a small population which are densely located within a
small number of poorer socio‐economic
The Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association stated that various research
findings supported this association including that:
- 75 per cent of offenders have completed only up to year 10 of
schooling (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2010);
between seven and eight per cent of males and 11 per cent of
women were homeless prior to their imprisonment (Willis 2004);
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are significantly
overrepresented in prisons and generally experience more exacerbated adverse
social determinants than other prisoners;
- 37 per cent report that they have had a mental health disorder at
some stage in their lives and 18 per cent are currently on medication for
mental health related conditions (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
- 41 per cent are infected with Hepatitis C and 20 per cent
infected with Hepatitis B (Victorian Ombudsman 2011);
- prisoners are heavy consumers of both licit and illicit drugs
with 81 per cent being current smokers (compared with 16.6 per cent of the
general population) (Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy 2010);
- 52 per cent of prisoners reported that they drink alcohol at
harmful levels compared with 20.4 per cent of the general population
(Preventative Health Taskforce 2009); and
- 71 per cent of prisoners had used illicit drugs in the past 12
months, compared with 13 per cent in the general community (Australian
Institute of Health and Welfare 2010).
The National Association of Community Legal Centres stated that as criminal
behaviour is closely associated with disadvantage in living standards, health,
education, housing and employment, the 'failure to adequately address these
issues in many urban and rural communities in Australia has ensured that people
in these communities are more likely to offend and be put in prison'.
Similarly, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) commented on
factors contributing to juvenile offending:
...juvenile offending is highly likely to lead to adult
offending, particularly serious crimes...the findings [of research into this
issue] reveal that unemployment, child abuse/neglect, drug and alcohol abuse,
mental health issues and performance at school are all factors highly
associated with juvenile offending.
The impact of poverty on incarceration rates for women was raised by
Sisters Inside which commented that 'any attempt to divert women and children
from the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems must address the
fundamental issue of poverty'. Sisters Inside noted that prior to imprisonment
50 to 75 per cent of women prisoners were unemployed while the majority of
criminalised women (and their children) survived on Centrelink benefits prior
Drug and substance abuse
Another factor that relates heavily to incarceration rates is drug and
substance abuse. Crime and substance abuse seem to be intrinsically linked as
'substance use leads to crime; crime leads to substance use and substance use
and crime are caused by the same factors'.
Alcohol abuse is observed as a significant factor in offending behaviour
and is more prevalent than any other drug.
The Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA) cited South Australian
police data reporting percentages of offensive behaviour that related to
alcohol, such as:
- 81 per cent of incidents of assaulting police;
- 76 per cent of disorderly or offensive behaviour; and
- 77 per cent of hindering police/resisting arrest.
In addition, in 2008, 75 per cent of prison entrants in South Australia
had a substance misuse history. This was most prevalent for younger offenders.
Nationally, the most frequently used drug prior to imprisonment was cannabis at
81 per cent, followed by amphetamines at 57 per cent, cocaine at 45 per cent
and ecstasy at 44 per cent.
The South Australian Network of Drug and Alcohol Services pointed to a
number of specific factors contributing to the rise in imprisonment rate
associated with substance abuse, including:
increase in the range of offences as a result of more drugs being
listed as illegal drugs;
- improvements in drug detection technology;
increasing intoxication rates at late night venues and frequency
of police attending a range of incidents which carry potential prison
inadequate numbers and types of pre and post release programs,
increase the risk of recidivism.
Recidivism through alcohol and substance abuse is substantial
particularly for injecting drug users. Prisoners with a history of injecting
drug use were found to be three times more likely to be re-incarcerated than
their non-injecting peers.
The imprisonment rate is also driven by the rate of recidivism. Submitters
suggested that the Australian corrections system does not assist in deterring
offenders from reoffending. Rather, it reinforces offending behaviour as it
does not address the underlying causes for incarceration, while placing an
unnecessary burden on police forces and the justice system.
Sisters Inside also submitted that 'once a young person has experienced
imprisonment...their likelihood of further imprisonment is increased', leading to
a life cycle of reoffending.
The committee was also informed that there are many social and economic
factors that are associated with recidivism that are not appropriately
addressed by the justice system. These factors can include, for example, inadequate
housing and poor nutrition as individuals without a safe residence or access to
three meals a day are more likely to reoffend in order to acquire these
At times, the justice system reinforces recidivism by affecting
offenders negatively and creating difficult release environments such as
suspended drivers licences, transitory living arrangements, unpaid fines and
prior records that can act as barriers to finding gainful employment.
With the growth in the Australian imprisonment rate, the overcrowding of
prisons has made it difficult for prisoners to access programs that are aimed
at addressing the underlying causes of offending behaviours. This is because
the programs are unavailable due to funding issues or are oversubscribed.
Growth in the incarceration of
There has been a sharp rise in the incarceration of women. The South
Australian Justice Reinvestment Group noted that the rate of women committing
certain offences is increasing, particularly offences that include deception,
acts likely to cause injury and homicide.
Factors contributing to female incarceration include poverty, poor
education outcomes, unstable housing, domestic violence and/or sexual abuse and
trauma. Women who have been incarcerated have a higher chance of substance
abuse, mental health problems, debts and poor credit rating and socioeconomic
Submitters commented on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who
enter the corrections system. In particular, the impact of family violence and
trauma on women was noted. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights
Commission stated that:
Family violence and other stressors manifest across the life
cycle, and across generations. This cycle is typified by periods in prison,
which entrenches trauma, family breakdown, contact with child protection and
out-of-home-care systems, homelessness, family violence, substance misuse and
mental health episodes. These inform further contact with the criminal justice
system, re-imprisonment, post-release breakdown, re-offending and
The issue of recidivism is just as significant when it comes to female
prisoners as it is with the general prison population, with at least 40 per
cent of women leaving prison subsequently reoffending – 17 per cent of those
within 12 months and 27 per cent within two years.
It is acknowledged that the Australian imprisonment rate has been
growing and that prison populations have reached an unacceptable level. Drivers
behind the increase in imprisonment rates include changes in the justice system
and the introduction of more punitive measures as a result of 'tough on crime'
policies. In addition, the underlying social and economic determinants of crime
compound systemic changes. To halt the increasing incarceration rate in
Australia, all drivers of crime must be addressed.
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