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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2005  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/01/2005   
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Women in prison

While women have consistently been a small proportion of the total prison population for the past ten years, their imprisonment rate has increased more than the male rate over this period. This article describes characteristics of women in prison, and how these have changed over recent years. Where relevant, comparisons are made with the corresponding characteristics for men in prison.

In 1993 the female imprisonment rate was 11.5 per 100,000 female adult population. (Adult female population is defined as females aged 18 years and over in all states and territories except Victoria and Queensland where 'adult' refers to persons aged 17 years and over.) By 2003 the female imprisonment rate had steadily increased to 20.4 (table 11.33). Although the representation of females among the total prison population has increased at a greater rate than that of males over the past decade, it remains relatively small. Females account for 7% of the Australian prison population. At 30 June 2003 there were 1,594 female prisoners, compared with 21,961 male prisoners.


11.33 PRISONERS(a)

Females
Males
All prisoners



30 June
no.
%(b)
rate(c)
no.
%(b)
rate(c)
no.
rate(c)

1993
764
4.8
11.5
15,102
95.2
221.0
15,866
119.2
1994
837
4.9
12.2
16,107
95.1
241.9
16,944
125.5
1995
835
4.8
12.0
16,593
95.2
245.9
17,428
127.3
1996
972
5.3
13.8
17,221
94.7
251.9
18,193
130.9
1997
1,096
5.7
15.3
18,032
94.3
258.2
19,128
137.0
1998
1,128
5.7
15.6
18,778
94.3
266.5
19,906
139.2
1999
1,365
6.3
18.6
20,173
93.7
269.8
21,538
145.2
2000
1,385
6.4
18.6
20,329
93.6
280.3
21,714
147.7
2001
1,498
6.7
19.8
20,960
93.3
284.5
22,458
150.5
2002
1,484
6.6
19.2
21,008
93.4
282.4
22,492
148.3
2003
1,594
6.8
20.4
21,961
93.2
290.8
22,555
153.4

(a) Prior to 1997, the Australian total excludes ACT periodic detainees.
(b) Percentage of total prisoner population.
(c) Rate per 100,000 adult population.

Source: Prisoners in Australia (4517.0); Australian Institute of Criminology, 'Australian Prisoners, Results of the National Prison Census, 1993'.


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).

Graph 11.34: FEMALE IMPRISONMENT RATE (a) - 2003



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.

11.35: FEMALE PRISONERS, By age



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).

Graph 11.36: UNSENTENCED PRISONERS



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.

Graph 11.37: SENTENCED FEMALE PRISONERS, By selected most serious offence(a)



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.

Graph 11.38: SENTENCED PRISONERS, By median aggregate sentence length(a)



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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