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Women in prison
In 2003, the female imprisonment rate varied by the state or territory of imprisonment. As graph 11.34 shows, the Northern Territory recorded the highest female imprisonment rate (32.9 per 100,000 female adult population), followed by Western Australia (28.9), and Queensland (23.7). The lowest rate was recorded in the Australian Capital Territory (9.4 per 100,000 female adult population).
The age profile of females in prison in 2003 was older than in 1993. In 1993, 72% were aged less than 35 years; by 2003, the proportion of this age group had decreased to 63% (graph 11.35). The median age had increased from 29 to 31 years. The largest age group in both 1993 and 2003 was those aged 25-29 years (27% and 23% respectively) but the proportion of almost every age group less than 35 years decreased. Similarly, the proportion of almost every age group 35 years and over increased during the same period. Possible reasons for the older female prison population may be changes in offending patterns and the sentencing practices of the criminal justice system.
Prisoners comprise persons who have received a term of imprisonment from a court (sentenced prisoners) and persons who are in custody on remand while awaiting the outcome of their trial (unsentenced prisoners). Compared with 1993, in 2003 there were higher proportions of both female and male persons in custody on remand. More prisoners were awaiting the outcome of their trial. Unsentenced female prisoners increased from 15% to 25% as a proportion of the total female population, and the proportion of male unsentenced prisoners increased from 12% to 20% (graph 11.36).
The most serious offence for which a prisoner is sentenced is defined as the offence for which prisoners have received the longest sentence. In 2003 the largest most serious offence categories for female prisoners were illicit drug offences (14% of female prisoners), deception and related offences (12%), robbery (12%), assault (12%), and homicide and related offences (11%) (graph 11.37).
Data from 1996 are used for comparison of offences over time, as this was the first year that the current offence classification was introduced. In 2003 the proportion of female prisoners with a most serious offence involving illicit drugs or deception was lower than in 1996. In contrast, the proportions of robbery, assault and homicide and related offences, all involving physical violence, were higher in 2003 compared with 1996.
In 2003 aggregate sentence length for female prisoners varied from less than one month to over ten years. The median aggregate sentence length for female sentenced prisoners was 27 months. The median aggregate sentence length for males was longer (42 months).
In this article data from 1998 are used to compare change in median sentence length across different time periods. Differences in the scope of the collection from 1993 to 1997 means that these data are not directly comparable with the current collection. Between 1998 and 2003, the median sentence length increased for both female and male prisoners (graph 11.38). For females it increased from 24 months to 27 months and for males it increased from 38 months to 42 months.
This article has outlined a number of characteristics of women in prison and how these have changed over time. For more information about females in the justice system, see Corrective Services, Australia (4512.0) and Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0) and Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia (4510.0).
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