First-of-its-kind report shines light on experiences of women in Australian prisons

Most women in Australia’s prisons are from disadvantaged backgrounds, and suffer poor mental and physical health, according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, The health and welfare of women in Australia’s prisons, includes information collected through questionnaires over a two-week period in adult prisons across Australia (except NSW).

‘Despite making up a relatively small proportion of the total prison population, the number of women in Australia’s prisons grew by 64% between 2009–2019—from around 2,100 to 3,500,’ said AIHW spokesperson Ms. Anna Ritson.

‘Many women entering prison come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with one-quarter (24%) of those surveyed reporting that they were unemployed, and over one-quarter (27%) in short-term or emergency accommodation in the 30 days prior to being incarcerated.’

‘The experiences of women in prison often crosses generations. Almost 1 in 5 (17%) women entering prison had a parent or carer incarcerated during their childhood, more than half (54%) had at least 1 dependent child, and 25 women gave birth while in custody,’ said Ms. Ritson.

More than 7 in 10 (72%) women entering prison had previously been incarcerated, with around 1 in 10 (9%) having previously been in youth detention.

Most women leaving prison were satisfied with the health care they had received, with 8 in 10 reporting that their physical health had improved, or stayed the same, while in prison.

‘On entry to prison, more than a third (36%) of women reported having been diagnosed with a chronic health condition. Among the reported chronic health conditions; just over 1 in 4 women reported having asthma (27%) and around 1 in 10, arthritis (9%),’ said Ms. Ritson. 

Mental health conditions among women in prison were common, with 2 in 3 (65%) women reporting they had received a mental health diagnosis before entering prison, and 40% were taking mental health-related medication.

Ms. Ritson noted the importance of continued reporting on the experiences of women in Australia’s prisons.

‘This report contributes to our understanding of women’s unique health and wellbeing needs when they enter prison, during their time in custody, and at release from prison.’ Ms. Ritson said.

Media enquiries: Elise Guy, AIHW: Mob. 0468 525 418                                          

Previous article Next article