Females in prison are a particularly vulnerable group (Breuer et al. 2021). They experience more challenges to their health and wellbeing than males in prison – and than females in the general community.
Compared with females in the general community, females in prison are far more likely to have been pregnant, to have been pregnant at a young age, and to have had multiple pregnancies – all of which take a substantial physical toll (Jones et al. 2018; Olsson et al. 2014).
Females in prison are more likely to be single parents, and more likely to be socioeconomically disadvantaged than those in the community (Earle 2018; Jones et al. 2018).
The vast majority of women in the criminal justice system are mothers, and many also have non-biological children who depend on them (Jones et al. 2018) (see Socioeconomic factors for information on people in prison with dependent children).
The effects of separating mothers from their children, even for short periods of time, can be devastating for all individuals involved (Poehlmann 2005). Children of incarcerated mothers are more likely to be in out-of-home care (often permanently), and children in out-of-home care are more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system (Dowell et al. 2018; Dowell et al. 2019; Millar and Dandurand 2018; Paynter et al. 2019; Remond et al. 2023).
Breuer E, Remond M, Lighton S, Passalaqua J, Galouzis J, Stewart K and Sullivan E (2021) ‘The needs and experiences of mothers while in prison and post-release: a rapid review and thematic synthesis’, Health Justice 9(31), doi.org/10.1186/s40352-021-00153-7.
Dowell CM, Mejia GC, Preen DB and Segal L (2018) ‘Maternal incarceration, child protection, and infant mortality: a descriptive study of infant children of women prisoners in Western Australia’, Health Justice 6(1):2, doi:10.1186/s40352–018–0060–y.
Dowell CM, Mejia GC, Preen DB and Segal L (2019) ‘Low birth weight and maternal incarceration in pregnancy: a longitudinal linked data study of Western Australian infants’, SSM – Population Health 7:100324.
Earle J (2018) ‘Why focus on reducing Women’s imprisonment?’, in Milne E, Brennan K, South N, Turton J (eds) Women and the criminal justice system, Palgrave Macmillan Cham, London.
Jones J, Wilson M, Sullivan E, Atkinson L, Gilles M, Simpson PL, Baldry E and Butler T (2018) ‘Australian Aboriginal women prisoners’ experiences of being a mother: a review’, International Journal of Prisoner Health 14(4):221–231.
Millar H and Dandurand Y (2018) ‘The best interests of the child and the sentencing of offenders with parental responsibilities’, Criminal Law Forum 29:227–277.
Olsson C, Horwill E, Moore E, Eisenberg M, Venn A, O’Loughlin C et al. (2014) ‘Social and emotional adjustment following early pregnancy in young Australian women: a comparison of those who terminate, miscarry, or complete pregnancy’, Journal of Adolescent Health 54:698–703.
Paynter M, Drake EK, Cassidy C and Snelgrove-Clarke E (2019) ‘Maternal health outcomes for incarcerated women: a scoping review’, Journal of Clinical Nursing, doi:10.1111/jocn.14837.
Poehlmann J (2005) ‘Representations of attachment relationships in children of incarcerated mothers’, Child Development 76(3):679–696.
Remond M, Zeki R, Kelly A, Bowman J, Galouzis J, Stewart K and Sullivan E (2023) ‘Intergenerational incarceration in New South Wales: characteristics of people in prison experiencing parental imprisonment’, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice 663, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, doi.org/10.52922/ti78863.