Every year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics releases a National Prisoner Census report. However, the numbers do not reflect or offer assistance to the human beings behind them.
During 2014-2015, Queensland prisoners represented 24% of offenders across the country. Queensland also had the sharpest increase in offender rates and offenders.
Griffith University Associate Professor working within the Criminology and Criminal Justice school, Stuart Kinner, claims data regarding the annual throughput of people churning through prison each year is not publicly available.
Instead, those seeking information are left with data regarding the daily number of individuals who are incarcerated, which leads to mass underestimations on the number of people in Australia’s prisons.
“The number of people churning through prison each year is a lot higher than the number that is in there on any given day. That churn, which is the number we actually want to know, it is not publicly available.”
“A lot of agencies are interested in obtaining that information for obvious reasons. But at this stage, it is not publicly available, and that is something we are obviously wanting to see changed.”
The purported daily incarceration rates for women across the country as of March this year was 32 out of every 100,000 women. From 2013-2015, Queensland prisons saw an alleged rise in the number of female offenders by 8%. Professor Kinner said the amount of women in prison is growing and acknowledges there is a substantial lack of data to analyse annual prison throughput.
“Although women make up the minority of the prison population, it is an increasing minority. A couple of other points about the numbers is you’ll see about 7-8% of prisoners are women, that is a misleading figure because it looks at the number of people in prison in any given day,”
“We are really quite dramatically underestimating the number of women who are experiencing incarceration. And so it is a bigger concern than the numbers would lead you to believe,”
“It is particularly true for Indigenous women because the rate of incarceration for Indigenous women is extraordinarily high, even higher than Indigenous men,” he said.
Incarcerated women are also more likely than their male counterparts to experience high levels of stress and anxiety revolving around a number of factors- such as their relationship with family and community members.
Professor Kinner said there needs to be more research into how women’s lives can genuinely be improved after their release from prison.
“We’re not quite sure of what works all that well yet, and the reason of that is there is not nearly enough good research about how to actually improve the lives of women after release from prison,”
“We know that the solutions are about empowering women and looking after their wellbeing rather than criminalising and stigmatising them,”
“The solutions are not to be found in prison… We are talking about women who are often profoundly marginalised, traumatised and disadvantaged in the community. What we need to be doing is investing in supporting them once they return to the community,” he said.
Professor Kinner said women who are discharging from prison need to be treated as individuals, also be provided safe accommodation to live in away from violent and abusive relationships, and have access to their children.
“Because all women are different, and also we can’t know everything that is going to happen before women are released from prison,”
“Women who have children in the community are almost always very highly motivated to make good for those kids,”
“What we need is to have services that have the flexibility and the resources to respond to women’s needs as they are released from prison into the community and help them to meet those needs,” he said.
Addressing the trauma experienced by women in prison and those who are about to be discharged is key in understanding and helping the women to lower levels of anxiety. Professor Kinner said to help these women, informed choices and personalised assistance is needed for each woman.
“Experiences of trauma are extremely common in women in prison. That can be from childhood abuse, sexual abuse; it can be trauma from violent relationships, and it can be trauma from a lifelong history of a range of traumatic and distressing experiences,”
“It means that everything we do to, with, and for these women should be informed by an understanding of the traumas that they have experienced and making sure that we don’t do anything to make it worse,”
“Doing things that potentially traumatise those people further is utterly inconsistent with common sense, human rights or any motivation to make things better,” he said.
Professor Kinner acknowledged there is a lack of evidence and facts regarding the way women feel after they have been released from prison, and said people need to begin asking how they feel and ask about the issues that are concerning to them.
“We need more research of that sort to understand the experiences of women transitioning back into the community so that we can start doing things that are informed by that evidence and therefore are much more likely to achieve the results we are after,”
“We really need to be doing more to try and genuinely support those women to return to the community and reintegrate with their families and communities. Because at the end of the day, it’s better for those women, it’s better for their families and better for society as a whole.”