‘Urgent Action’ needed

‘Urgent action’ needed over high proportion of Indigenous women in prison, report says

By Philippa McDonald
Published 31/03/2020, ABC News
Original article can be viewed here.

The number of Indigenous women in custody has been called “one of the most challenging human rights issues facing Australia".

Key points:

  • Research shows a “disturbing overrepresentation" of Indigenous prisoners
  • Poverty, family violence, abuse and trauma are often background factors
  • A top advocate has called for an approach that tackles social and economic disadvantage

Research out today has shed new light on Indigenous women in the criminal justice system in New South Wales.

It found the number of women in NSW jails between March 2013 and June 2019 had risen by 33 per cent to 946.

Almost a third of women prisoners were Indigenous despite making up less than 3 per cent of the population.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, June Oscar, said “urgent action" was needed.

“It causes immense distress and disturbance to family and community life," Ms Oscar told the ABC.

The research report was commissioned by the Keeping Women Out of Prison Coalition (KWOOP).

It draws on the latest data from the NSW prison census and agencies including Justice Health and the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

“There is a disturbing overrepresentation of Indigenous women," said KWOOP convenor Rosalind Strong.

The Coalition is made up of senior academics from UTS and the University of New South Wales, lawyers, representatives from Corrective Services and members of organisations who provide frontline services to women and families affected by incarceration.

The research found the growth in the number of women in prison was due to a 66 per cent increase in the proportion of women on remand, not a rise in crime.

Indigenous women were on average waiting 34 to 58 days for bail, yet in the majority of cases women on remand were not given a sentence.