You may often hear from us about the Keeping Women out of Prison coalition and the District 24 endorsed service and advocacy project for all Zonta Clubs for Keeping Women out of Prison. This project is one of our major service and advocacy projects for the Zonta Club of Sydney, and so we hope to provide some ongoing updates on this project more regularly.
But first – some background. Between 2013 and 2019 there was a 33% increase in the number of women in prison in NSW. This number was driven by a significant increase (66%) in the proportion of women on remand and not through a growth in crime. (BOCSAR, NSW Custody Statistics Quarterly Update June 2019). In June 2019, 41% of women in prison were on remand – which means they had not yet been sentenced.
In the 12 months to June 2020, 1226 women were sentenced to non-parole prison terms in NSW prisons. Sentencing jurisdictions and prison terms indicate that few women committed acts of violence – 68.4% (840) were for sentences of less than 6 months. 19.15% (234) were for sentences of 6-12 months.
Women leaving the criminal justice system after a prison term are one of the most disempowered and disadvantaged groups in the community. Poverty, isolation, mental health issues, domestic violence all impact, and links with family, including children, are likely to have been severely damaged.
Government support for women on leaving prison is minimal, and welfare is often managed by a small number of poorly resourced welfare and not for profit organisations. Support needed is complex and may include mentoring, support for children, legal and health services, access to drug, alcohol and mental health programs, parenting support as well as employment and accommodation support. The Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network Patient Survey found that at least one third of women leave prison into either homelessness or housing instability.
Zonta Club of Sydney advocates for women with sentences of less than one year serving their term in the community, for women with children to not be remanded in custody unless they pose a danger to the community, improved access to education and employment programs within prison and stable and affordable housing for women leaving prison.