Researchers have investigated how women enter the criminal justice system in Victoria and identified measures that might help to reduce their imprisonment.
“The number of women in prison in Victoria has nearly doubled in the last decade,” explains lead researcher, Dr Emma Russell. “Aboriginal women are the fastest growing prison population in the state. And, two-thirds of women in prison report being a victim-survivor of family violence.”
The growth in women’s imprisonment, says Russell, is largely a result of legal and policy changes – including changes to bail and sentencing, and the creation of new criminal offences for breaching court orders.
The research team found that over-policing and police biases impact upon Aboriginal women, women without stable housing or incomes, and women with mental illness.
“Negative contact with police exposes women to criminalisation and can dissuade women from contacting police when they’ve been victimised,” says Russell.
Based on their findings, the team have developed a set of policy recommendations for advocacy organisations and state government. These include expanding safe public housing options for women and building independent police oversight and accountability systems.
“We are also working with other community legal centers, social services organisations, women with lived experience of prison, and grassroots campaigns to advocate for legal and policy changes that will reduce women’s criminalisation and imprisonment,” adds Russell.
“Our vision is that all women will have access to the support and resources that they need to stay safe.”