Tracy Brannigan Action Plan

tracy brannigan

Tracy Brannigan

Tracy Brannigan died in prison on Monday 25 February 2013. She should never have been isolated from her friends’ support by being placed in a ‘high needs’ cell when she was clearly under the influence of drugs. Had proper services been provided, such as drug rehabilitation, intervention, dry cell and sufficient monitoring, Tracy would still be alive today. She should have been able to use her time in prison effectively, but instead she was left frustrated without access to education and a computer. The inquest into Tracy’s death failed as it lacked the legal support prepared to investigate and expose these issues and link them to similar past cases.

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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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Women in Prison

Expanding Berrima: women-only 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.

The experience is destructive for both men and women prisoners. But the specific issues behind women's incarceration have been largely neglected, in part because they represent just 6% of the overall prison population in NSW. Women have traditionally been sent to prison for different reasons; and once in prison, they endure different conditions of incarceration. Women's 'crimes' have often had a sexual definition and been rooted in the patriarchal double standard. Furthermore, the nature of women's imprisonment reflects the position of women in society.

Historical Context
Indigenous Women in Prison
Drug Use
Education and Training
Mental Health
Aftercare: Rehabilitation and the Transition to Liberty
Non-English Background Women Minorities
Prisoners - Beyond Bars
The Bangkok Rules

Emu Plains All-Day Visits
Stop the Womens Gaol - Dillwynia

Tracy Brannigan
Roseanne Catt

Submission to the Inquiry into the Discrimination Experience by Women

Historical context of women's imprisonment in the West
Although prisons as a system did not emerge until industrialisation, the institutional control and punishment of women deemed to have deviated from their assigned roles is centuries older. In the late Middle Ages women were burned at the stake for adultery or murdering a spouse, when men would most often not be punished at all for the same acts. Unwanted wives, illegitimate daughters, political prisoners, the mentally ill and the handicapped were forced into convents, monasteries, and later, asylums. A million people, over 80% of them women, were executed under the witch-hunts of Europe and the US, many of them poor women, single women, lesbians, feminists and midwives. These systems of punishment and institutionalisation were about preventing women from becoming economically and sexually independent and maintaining the patriarchal social structure. The role of women was an essential element in the 'civilising' project for colonial administrations.

In Australia the first prison for women was opened in Long Bay, NSW, in 1909.

Women's Imprisonment Today
Nationally and internationally, the number of women being imprisoned is rising dramatically. With an increase of more than 260% over the past two decades, there are now around 516 women in full-time custody in NSW, about a third of those on remand (unsentenced and awaiting trial). Not only are more women going to jail, but at expanding rates, for longer periods, and for ever more minor crimes. For Aboriginal women the trend has been even more disturbing. With 109 women in full-time custody in June last year, they are the fastest growing group in jail.

Policy makers often attempt to put the increase in women prisoners down to increased police 'efficiency' and an alleged greater involvement of women in serious crime. Both these assertions are unbased. The profile of women in prison demonstrates that the issues go much deeper:

Out of all women in jail in NSW:
 - at least 85% are survivors of sexual abuse
 - 70% experienced physical violence as an adult
 - 70-90% are drug addicts
 - 73% have been admitted to psychiatric or mental health units
 - 39% have attempted suicide
 - 31% are Indigenous
 - half are mothers of dependent young children
 - 30% in metropolitan prisons come from the three most disadvantaged Sydney suburbs. and
 - 20% have been in the care system as children compared to 2% of the general population.
 - at least 50% report being victims of childhood abuse or domestic violence.
Prison is often a very expensive way of making bad situations worse.
Nearly 40% of women prisoners lose their homes as a result of imprisonment.
- 65% re-offend on release.
- The most common offences for which women are sent to prison are theft and handling stolen goods.
Source: Women in Prison: http://www.womeninprison.org.uk/

When we look at the life stories of women within the prison system, the distinctions between offender and victim become very blurred. Their crimes are primarily those of poverty and drug addiction. Nationally 71.6% of women are imprisoned for non-violent property-related offences, as the Ombudsman found in 1997.

The 1997 NSW Standing Committee into Social Issues recognised the relationship between drug dependency and physical and sexual abuse as a crucial issue in women's imprisonment internationally. Yet Government priorities continue to focus on building prisons rather than support services for these women. Prisons represent up to $60 000 per prisoner per year which is not spent on refuges, housing, education, legal aid, drug rehabilitation, employment, mental illness, sexual assault and all the other services which have been suffering desperately under funding cuts and economic rationalisation in recent years. In fact it's the lack of these very same services which lead to the conditions where women get jailed.

Male privilege and the protection of that privilege, in a framework of white supremacy and capitalism, continue to be central to the criminal prosecution system.

Perhaps most illustrative of the unequal justice that applies to women are the countless cases of battered women in prison, convicted and sentenced for fighting back, and sometimes killing, their abusive partners in defense of their lives and/or the lives of their children.

The legal system's zeal for attempting to separate individual from environment can be particularly unjust in the case of women. One of the problems is the way in which our system of laws has been built up around the idea of a "rational", financially and socially independent (and white and heterosexual) male subject. When the offender is instead a battered woman, a mother with dependent children, a woman who goes into debt to help another, a person with a drug addiction, a person who faces structural racism or suffers trauma, the legal models cannot cope. Blame is awarded and support does not enter the equation.

'Women who come before the courts encounter not only the rejection of their allegedly illegal activity, but also a strong rejection of what is all too often perceived as their "anti-feminine" behaviour' (Hampton 1993).

The 1997 NSW Standing Committee into Social Issues found that a woman who fits into traditional gender roles and family stereotypes is less likely to receive a custodial sentence than the woman who is perceived as not being motherly or domestic. A drug addicted, single mother who is a sex worker is far more likely to receive a custodial sentence for a minor property crime than is a middle class, married mother who commits company fraud. She is also likely to be treated more harshly than a male counterpart for the same property crime.
On the inside women are also treated according to ideological assumptions about 'correct' female behaviour. Some jurisdictions have attempted to address women's different 'needs' in prison by offering floral dresses as an alternative to the tracksuit. Interestingly basic health, nutrition and humane treatment do not equally rate as feminine 'needs'. Lesbian behaviour is also policed to varying degrees.

The Punishment of Mothers and Children
There are 4,000 children with a parent in a NSW prison (Easteal 1991). Approximately 60% of women in prisons are parents, many being sole carers of young children before their incarceration.

How can we reconcile ourselves to the knowledge that a child can be pulled out of bed at midnight by uniformed officers and placed into foster care with strangers because there is a 'suspicion' that her mother - a prisoner - has taken drugs? What impact is it having on these kids, who so often think it is their fault that their mothers have been taken away; their punishment? (J Griffin, 'Call my name', Program to Somebody's Daughter Theatre Company production, 1994).

Women's entry into the criminal legal system often reflects a culmination of the many disadvantages that women deal with on a daily basis. Largely because of women's unpaid labour in the domestic sphere in child-rearing, we are much more likely to face economic hardship, especially as single mothers. This is often the beginning of a spiraling into the prison cycle. But entering the prison system as a mother is especially damaging for both the woman and her children.

Children of prisoners face a high chance of ending up in foster care and experiencing isolation, disruption, dislocation, poverty and even physical and sexual abuse. Many later end up in detention themselves. A woman who has had her children removed may never regain custody over them, let alone rebuild the relationship or overcome her own guilt. Additionally, women are far more likely than men to be released from prison to a broken family and no home and little or no personal or financial support.

In line with the gendered notion of the criminal body, there are few protocols for police when arresting an individual who has dependent children. In a number of jurisdictions there are in fact more instructions for arresting an offender with a pet! As there are fewer prison facilities for women, an incarcerated woman is ordinarily much farther away from her home and family than the average male prisoner. This increased distance causes substantial transportation problems for children of prisoners and as a result deprives women prisoners of contact with their children.

Prison officers know that inmates' children are often their biggest anxiety, and contact visits are often used as disciplinary tools in petty power games over inmates. Although prison authorities admit that family contact is the one factor which most greatly enhances parole success, the jail system actively works to obstruct such contact. Many prisoners have commented that it was their guilt in losing their children that cemented their drug addictions.

The NSW Government constantly boasts about its Mothers and Children program in NSW prisons. But despite the hundreds of mothers to have passed through its jails, only twenty-one women had access to the full-time program between 1996 and 2000. A woman lucky enough to qualify faces an un-enviable 'choice' - to keep her child in a prison environment of fear, brutality and tear gassings, or to face the pain of separation for them both.

It seems not only are innocent children to be punished, but women with dependent children are to be punished twice: both for their illegal act and for being a 'bad' mother.

Incarceration removes all sense of power and control that people have over their bodies, over their daily routines and their life opportunities in the future. For the huge majority of women in prison who are survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence, this is especially destructive.

Couple this with the daily reality for people in prison and police custody to be legally sexually assaulted through the ritual of stripsearches. For every contact visit a woman must go into a room with a number of officers, take off her clothes, hand them to the officers - not necessarily female although officially required to be - stand naked, raise her arms, lift her breasts, open her mouth, spread her legs, bend over, part her cheeks and remove a tampon if she has one. Every time an inmate sees the people important to her, including lawyers and children, she must face this humiliation. For many women the price is too dear and they choose to withdraw from support networks on the outside.

Life or Death After Release
'From a situation of imposed infantile dependence, rules and regulations covering every aspect of your life; what time you get up, how to make your bed, what time you eat breakfast, what time you're allowed out to exercise, being locked in your cell - a person is then let out and expected to cope immediately'(Anonymous woman quoted in Fitzroy Legal Service 1988, 36).

After having been denied power over their own lives for years, and after living under systemic violence and repression, inmates are suddenly expected to set about finding accommodation and work and becoming parents again with little personal support. A $300 Social Security payment which is supposed to get them established from scratch and last them for a couple of weeks (NSW Standing Committee on Social Issues 1997).

The high incidence of deaths of women within weeks of leaving prison has never been recognised by governments and prison operators. Between 1987 and 1997 at least 93 women in Victoria died shortly after leaving prison, most dying in either temporary accommodation or on the streets.

Feminism and the prison struggle
The urgency of ending men's violence against women has compelled many in the feminist movement to call for stronger penalties and even an expansion of the judicial and prison system for particular crimes. Prison issues are important for feminists, both because individual women are being oppressed by prison and, in a wider context, because the criminal justice system exists to support the larger power structure that oppresses us all. Prison is a type of violence which enforces a state's power over its citizens, in the same way that rape and battering enforce the power of men over women.

The prison system is no remedy for violence against women for two reasons. Most such crimes are never acted upon by authorities. Secondly, the justice system is controlled through government by the economic elite and will continue to reflect their values and not those of feminists. Imprisonment will be used against us when we challenge the system. Feminists must participate in the search for alternate ways of dealing with those who oppress. With the awareness that the judicial/prison system is not our ally in the long run, we'll be more reluctant to ask one part of the patriarchy to protect us from other parts. Our other task is to learn about and support the struggles of prisoners. Women inside fight back and resist all the time.
Personally, I spent four years in prison wondering what the lesson was that I was supposed to be learning and I still wonderÂ….

All statistics are drawn from NSW Department of Corrective Services 2000a; NSW Select Committee on Increase in Prisoner Population Interim Report 2000, CRC Justice Support's 'Headline Statistics' April 2001, and Surviving Time Outside Prison (STOP) Campaign, Victoria 2000.

Written by Renee Lees for Stop the Womens Jail Anti-Prisons Resource Kit Published June 2001 by Justice Action Ph: (02) 9660-9111

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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Over the last fifteen years, there has been a sharp increase in unsentenced women being imprisoned on remand in Australia. While on remand, women prisoners have limited access to programs, services and support and are further limited due to the prisons classification system – remandees usually highly classified. Women prisoners on remand are more likely to be released with little support for their rehabilitation into real life.


Aggregate Sentence Length

Women are likely to get shorter aggregate sentences and less time to serve in prison than men; in 2013, the average aggregate sentence for woman was 9 months although it was 17 months for men. However, the sentencing of women is more likely to be inappropriate and ineffective; indeed, far from the ‘rational’ of a socially and financially independent male, a battered woman, a mother with dependent children, a woman who goes into debt to help another, a person with a drug addiction, a person who faces structural racism or suffers trauma, the legal system awards blame and does not even consider support as part of the equation. Ejected from society because of their illegal activity substantially too often perceived as ‘anti-feminine’ behaviour, prisons do not necessarily offer the appropriate means for women to live correctly in prison. For instance, some jurisdictions attempted to switch the traditional tracksuit with floral dresses. Interestingly enough, basic health, nutrition and humane treatment do not seem to equal ‘feminine needs’.

For both men and women, people who have previously been incarcerated are more likely to receive a term of imprisonment than those who have not. The rate of women returning to prison thorough Australia has increased. In 2013 the rate of recidivism for Indigenous women was 66.8% while non-Indigenous women’s was 41.5%.


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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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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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Indigenous Women in Prisons

In Australia, Indigenous women are overrepresented in prisons. The number of indigenous female prisoners in NSW has increased by 230% from 1998-2009. In comparison, the number of non-indigenous female prisoners has risen by 43%.

High incarceration rates are partly attributed to practices adopted by police authorities. This involves stationing a large number of police at largely indigenous populated areas. This generates a higher level of surveillance on Indigenous groups.

In addition, on average indigenous women serve shorter sentences than their non-indigenous counterparts. This suggests that they are being imprisoned for minor offences, such as alcohol related offences, and that imprisonment is not being used as a last resort.

The high level of incarceration occurs in the context of family violence, over-policing for selected offences, poor health, unemployment and poverty. Overall indigenous women have a double disadvantage, namely race and gender. To overcome these issues the law must recognise that indigenous women in particular are socially and economically oppressed. Many of the services that are currently provided for the Indigenous prison community are tailored towards indigenous men. Until the law recognises these rights, indigenous women will be continue to be treated unjustly.



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