New data shows that state and territory governments are imprisoning women at an alarmingly and rapidly increasing rate – more than double the rate of men.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released data last week that shows governments across Australia are now forcing more than 3,600 women into prisons. This marks an increase of 10 per cent from the previous year - more than double the rate of men’s, which increased by four per cent.
Ruth Barson, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the human and social toll of state and territory governments funneling thousands of women into prisons is devastating.
“Most women behind bars are mothers and survivors of violence. They are being separated from their families and communities. We need a new approach to justice – one that prioritises supporting people, rather than dumping them into the quicksand of the prison system,” said Ms Barson.
This is the seventh consecutive year in which the number of people in prison has risen. NSW and Victoria have had the highest overall growth, while the Northern Territory Government continues to have the highest imprisonment rate in the country.
The data shows that around 43,000 individuals in Australia will be held behind bars. Ms Barson said the data paints a picture of governments mindlessly hurtling towards a mass-imprisonment crisis.
“Our justice system is failing – it is rife with unfairness and inequality. Women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disabilities and people falling on tough times are hit hardest by politicians peddling punitive, lock-em-up laws,” said Ms Barson.
“Governments should be working towards reducing the number of people forced into prisons. There are straight forward reforms like raising the age of criminal responsibility at which children can be sent to prison, ending mandatory sentencing, and decriminalising minor offences like public drunkenness that governments could implement today that would make a huge difference,” said Ms Barson.
The data also shows that one in every three people are in prison on remand – being held without conviction while their charges are processed. This is an increase of seven per cent over a 12 month period. In Victoria, the number of people on remand increased by an astonishing 22 percent – meaning there were almost an additional 500 people who had their liberty removed without being convicted.
Ms Barson said that fixing over the top bail laws is a key transformation needed to make our justice system fair and equitable.
“Thousands of people in prison in Australia are there not because they’ve been convicted, but because our bail laws are overly punitive and treat poverty as a crime. Nobody should be in prison simply because they don’t have a home, are struggling with addiction or because they have nowhere safe to go,” said Ms Barson.
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