In response to tonight’s Four Corners episode, Criminalising women, legal and human rights organisations are calling on the Andrews Government to drastically cut the number of women being criminalised and imprisoned in Victoria.
In the past five years, the number of women being locked up in Victoria has increased by close to 50 percent. Almost 70 percent of women behind bars in Victoria have children and the overwhelming majority are victim/survivors of trauma and violence.
Ruth Barson, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that the interviews screened on Four Corners were further evidence of the devastation caused by imprisonment.
“Premier Andrews cannot ignore the injustice of women’s over-imprisonment that his government’s bail reforms turbo-charged. The Andrews Government introduced draconian bail laws in response to a particular violent man’s offending, but it is women who are paying the highest price,” said Barson.
The increase in women’s imprisonment in Victoria is largely due to unfair bail laws driving up remand rates – the number of women being held on remand in Victoria increased an astonishing 150 percent in 5 years. In Victoria, almost 9 out of 10 women entering prison have not been convicted of an offence and are rather being held on remand.
Women are most frequently remanded for low-level property offences, like shop lifting.
“Right now, hundreds of women are separated from their children and families and are behind bars. Most are mothers or survivors of violence. Premier Andrews could tomorrow stop our women’s prison population from sky-rocketing by changing bail laws so that they are fair and humane,” said Barson.
Housing instability and homelessness are also significant factors in women being imprisoned. At least a quarter of women in Victorian prisons have experienced homelessness. Many women don’t get bail because they have no home to be bailed to.
Megan Pearce, manager of The Women Transforming Justice project, based at Darebin Community Legal Centre, said that without proper housing, we are setting women up to fail.
“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. The Andrews Government must create stable housing for women so that they can be safe and rebuild their lives,” said Pearce.
Victoria spends the least on social housing out of all Australia’s states and territories, according to recent data published by the Productivity Commission. This data also shows that, adjusted for population growth, funding for housing has been steadily falling, while the prison population grows.
“The housing situation in Victoria is so desperate that many women entering prison are homeless, and when they leave prison they are forced to stay in dangerous rooming houses, or sleep on the streets once again. The Andrews Government must commit to sustained investment in housing,” said Pearce.