Stop The Women’s Jail
Stop The Women’s Jail was an incredibly important campaign that spanned a number of years beginning in 2000. We aimed to prevent the construction of a new women’s jail in South Windsor as the incarceration of women for minor non-violent offences serves only to damage the lives of the women and potentially the communities into which they return following incarceration.
Stop the Women’s Jail was made up of the Prisoners Action Group, the Australian Prisoners Union and Justice Action. Greens Politian Kerry Nettle was the campaign coordinator and an integral part of everything that happened. A few months before the beginning of the campaign the NSW committee received 138 submissions from a range of individuals and organisations including Ann Symonds, NSW Council of Civil Liberties, The Salvation Army, NCOSS, The NSW Law Society, Legal Aid, NSW Teachers Federation and the Bishop of Parramatta. In all these submissions there was only one supporting the building of the new jail and that was from the NSW Department of Corrective Services.
In their submissions the select committee recognised that the needs of the women in the existing prison system were not being addressed or dealt with by the current system as Bob Debus the Attorney General and John Watkins the Minister for Correctional services at the time had acknowledged saying the existing centres were “cramped (with) out-dated conditions which have compromised the safe management and delivery of services for women…” While we agreed with this statement we did not think a new jail was the solution. The committee instead found that the focus of the Department of Corrective Services was on their role as a body who incrassates rather than rehabilitates. The chair of the committee, John Ryan, recognised, that “Prison is not the best place to rehabilitate these women”.
For close to a year Stop the Women’s Jail opposed the new development. They placed a lot of pressure on Bob Carr’s government by releasing press statements, attending and creating rallies, speaking to women prisoners in the area and holding public talks with well know political speakers and ex prisoners among many other things.
This in turn got the NSW Upper House Select Committee looking into the increasing prison populations and they released a report on issues relating to women. The report contained a range of recommendations which were supported by Stop the Women’s Jail.
The multi-party committee unanimously recommended:
- A moratorium be placed on the number of prison beds for women in NSW
- That the Government undertake a cost-benefit analysis, including an examination of the costs of imprisonment versus the costs of community-based sentences, before proceeding with the proposed new 200 bed women’s jail at South Windsor.
- The wider use of bail and probation hostels, transitional centres, rehabilitation facilities and residential programs; improved liaison between corrective and community services.
- Bail and probation hostels to allow women to have their children with them rather than put further strains on these women by separating them from their children and other loved ones.
- That the needs of indigenous inmates are best met by programs designed to work closely with the relevant indigenous communities. Such measures allow women to deal with the many issues in their lives in a safe and supportive environment of a community setting rather than in a prison.
However, just twenty minutes after the select committee reported on their recommendations to not build the jail was released, the State Government announced that they would proceed with the construction of the jail regardless of this report, at a cost of $42 million to taxpayers.
This was then followed by 6 weeks of intense campaigning to stop the contracts with builders from being signed. During this time there was over 7 protests and rallies, a land and environment court application, the creation of our own ‘cost benefit analysis’ that was publically issued and called for the government to do the same and meetings with several key Politian’s among many other things that placed pressure on the government. Despite all this opposition however the contracts were still signed. Then when the state budget was released in May 2001 they added an extra $6 million to the construction despite a general community consensus that disagreed with the new women’s jail.
Dillwynia Correction Centre is what came of that $48 million.
We were disgusted by this outcome as this jail is being used to lock up our sisters, daughters and mothers instead of getting them the help they require. Women who are or have been incarcerated represent one of the most marginalized groups in our community. They are disproportionately affected by homelessness, violence, mental illness, poverty, and substance abuse. Research also shows that women who are or have been in prison are more likely to have experienced physical, emotional and sexual violence than women in the broader community.
- 56% of female inmates reported previous or current injecting drug use.
- 29% of mothers in prison reported having previously attempted suicide and 84.5% of women in prison have or had a mental disorder.
- Approximately 72% of women in prisons are mothers, with 62% having been the sole caregiver prior to imprisonment.
- A high proportion of women have experienced domestic violence, and physical/sexual assault.
- 60% of inmates are notfunctionally literate or numerate