Prison Issues

Prison Issues

Historical Context of Women’s Imprisonment

Female convicts from Ireland and England in the 18th and 19th Centuries who were sent to Australia had to work in a ‘Female Factory’ either making ropes, flax or wool. Others were sent to the home of settlers to serve as domestic. Some also had the opportunity to work as nurses or record-keepers under the Governor Phillip’s system of labour.

After colonization, the first prison for women opened in 1909 in Long Bay (NSW), nowadays known as the State Reformatory for Women.

In 1969, another training and detention centre was opened in Silverwater (Sydney) and accommodated female prisoners who had previously been in goal in the Long Bay Institution.

Women imprisonment rates in Australia have been steadily increasing, in both the rate at which they are imprisoned (almost four times than twenty years ago) and their percentage of the prison population. There are more women in remand than men although it remains difficult to compare statistic of the time in custody as women have shorter but more frequent periods of imprisonment.

Women tend to be involved in crime typically regarded as less serious, such as shoplifting, fraud and drug-related crimes. Nevertheless, increases in the proportion of incarcerated women might be partially explained by the changes in type of crimes women are committing. Indeed, between 1999 and 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics overview of national trends observed an increase of women committing robbery, theft, assault and homicide. The most serious offence with the highest proportion of offenders for women in Australia in this period was possession/use of illicit drugs, followed by acts intended to cause injury. For men, it was the opposite.


Women in Prison Forum

Empowering Women Prisoners in China

Organised by the Australian Human Rights Commission, we presented an array of issues surrounding women in prisons to the Ministry of Justice China (MOJC) and proposed changes. Eight top officials from the Ministry listened to our concerns about the rapidly expanding prison rate and our proposals about computers in cells and access to responsive health and social services, as women prisoners are the fastest growing prison demographic in Australia.

moj pictureAbove: Justice Action presenting to the Ministry of Justice China


On March 26th 2014, Justice Action (JA) and the Women in Prison Advocacy Network presented, on behalf of Australian prisoners, to the Ministry of Justice, People’s Republic of China delegation. We raised the alarming issue of women imprisonment and ways to empower prisoners to assist resettlement. The China-Australia Human Rights Technical Cooperation Program aims to build commitment with the People’s Public of China government to apply human rights principles and practices for human rights reform. This one week program focused on women in prisons.

JA strongly advocated that the voices of people held in prisons should be heard and their independence supported. We suggest that a similar organisation to JA should be supported in China to assist with the protection, health and freedom of rights for women Prisoners in China. We provided four identified areas of concern, which are listed below:  

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Tracy Brannigan Avoidable death in custody

Tracy Brannigan’s avoidable death in custody marks the loss of a loved one and must force change in the prison system. She was owed a duty of care but rather than accepting responsibility, they isolated her in a cell away from her family and support. Their callous indifference caused her death. Download Report and Action Plan

Update: Media Release Friday 3rd May 2013, Justice Action calls for a public inquiry into avoidable deaths in custody, and launches the Tracy Brannigan Action Plan.

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Women in Prison

Ex-criminal Kat Armstrong Approved to Practise As Lawyer


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Prison is not an isolated institution, it is part of a continuum in the control of women, whether by our lack of access to economic independence, violence, racism or specific laws that target women such as prostitution and social security. The society that condemns the behaviour of women it imprisons, yet accepts the treatment prisoners are given inside is at best hypocritical, but perhaps more correctly, sadistic (Amanda George, 1993). 

The prison system takes people from their families and communities, crams them into an overcrowded and oppressive environment, subjects them to isolation, violence, torture, guard brutality, organized white supremacy, and a life of boredom and useless toil, then releases them with little to no support to face poverty, post-trauma stress, and ongoing persecution from the law.

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Beyond Bars - Inquiry Into Treatment of Women

Submission to the Anti Discrimination Commissioner for an Inquiry into the Discrimination Experienced by Women Prisoners within the Criminal Justice System in New South Wales

Written and Submitted by:
Members of the Beyond Bars Alliance NSW
Kat Armstrong, Vicki Chartrand & Dr. Eileen Baldry
May 2005

The Purpose of this Submission
On 20th July 2004, the Beyond Bars Alliance wrote to the Commissioner of the Department of Corrective Services (DCS) NSW, the Attorney General of NSW, the Commissioner of Police of NSW, and to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board (see Appendix I) seeking an inquiry into the treatment of women prisoners in NSW.

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Women of Minority in Prison

Women from non-english speaking Backgrounds in Prison

Imprisonment is an isolating, dislocating and frightening experience for any prisoner. For those from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds (NESB) these experiences can be intensified.

Many prisoners from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds have to contend with a racist culture both within and outside the prison, as well as the active discrimination from courts, police and correctional institutions. Despite the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of 'race, colour, gender, marital status, physical disability, religion, political affiliation or national origin' in Office of Corrections operational principles, NESB prisoners frequently experience discrimination whilst in prison.

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Roseanne Catt

This case exposes the thorough erosion of so much that is good in our society - the issues themselves become clouded by disbelief. Roseanne Catt is already the longest serving female prisoner in NSW.

Roseanne Catt was found guilty of trying to kill her husband in 1991. She was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment (of which she served 10 years) for possessing a revolver and assaulting, stabbing, attempting to poison and planning to murder on her ex-husband Barry Catt.

During those ten years, Roseanne continued to protest her innocence. She had always (and honestly) maintained that she was framed as a result of a conspiracy between her ex-husband and the detective who investigated the case, Peter Thomas.

In 2001, the truth was finally revealed when the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal received fresh findings by the judge who found that Mr. Thomas had used improper methods of investigation. The corrupt ex-NSW Detective had conspired with others to fabricate evidence and lay false charges, subsequently misleading the court to falsely convict and innocent woman. Roseanne was found not guilty and was released out of prison.

As a result of her 10 years of wrongful incarceration, Roseanne has now become the state's longest serving female prisoner. For the pain and suffering she endured at the hands of the state's corruption and false conviction, there is widespread support both politically and from the community for Roseanne to be compensated, coupled with a public apology by the Government.

Further links:

An archive of the days before the judge can be read, and the full story exposed by following the story below.
The accounts are emails relayed by a staunch, and long time supporter of Roseanne Catt's - the effervescent Sister Mary Court. Let her emails tell the story...

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