The Miranda Project Q&A

What does the Miranda Project aim to do?

Keep women out of custody and help them gain control of their lives.

How will it do this?

By pursuing three goals:

  1. Building on existing women’s services to set up One-Stop Shops through a specifically targeted support program. Centres will be licensed to offer the Miranda Program and sentencing authorities will be able to use the purpose-built Miranda Program as an alternative to custody as well as support for women on parole.
  2. Establishing a Miranda Centre to test the model of co-located services and peer engagement.
  3. Implementing an employment-related strategy to increase participants’ chances of getting and keeping a job.

Who are the Miranda Project clients?

The clients are women in the criminal justice system including those coming out of gaol, but also those at the front end who can be diverted from custody to the Miranda Program. This could be pre or post sentence.
Participants can continue to engage with a centre for ongoing support after completion of their order if they like. This is not unusual in UK women’s centre and is warmly welcomed.

Numbers of women in prison in NSW have been going up rapidly. What’s the rate of increase over the last ten years? And compared with men?

Women are a much smaller proportion of the offending population than men and have constituted a minority of the total prisoner population since the inception of the modern prison. Nevertheless, since the early 1990s women have formed a rapidly growing proportion of prisoners across Western democracies including Australia.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data1 indicates that at 30 June 2015:

  • The number of female prisoners had increased by 11% (287 prisoners) from 2,589 prisoners at June 30 2014, to 2,876 prisoners at 30 June 2015. (Table 2).
  • By contrast, there were 33,256 male prisoners in Australian prisons, an increase of 7% (2,055 prisoners) from 31,201 prisoners at 30 June 2014.

From 2004-2014, the number of women in prison in Australia increased from 1,673 to 2,591 per 100,000 (54.87%), compared with 22,499 to 31,200 per 100,000 for men (38.67%).2

Indigenous women are the most over-represented and fastest growing group in prison. The Indigenous women’s incarceration rate increased by 58.6% from 2000-2010, compared with 22.4% for non-Indigenous women, 35.2% for Indigenous men, and 3.6% for non-Indigenous men.3

  • New South Wales had the largest adult prisoner population in 2015, accounting for 33% of the total Australian adult population. The number of adult prisoners in New South Wales prisons was 11,797, an increase of 12% (1,230 prisoners) from 2014. This increase in prisoners was the largest of any state or territory (Table 14). Women comprise 7% of the total prison population in NSW (Table 13).
  • From 30 June 2014- 30 June 2015, the female imprisonment rate in NSW increased from 24 to 29 prisoners per 100,000 female adult population (20.83%) and the male imprisonment rate increased from 345 to 377 prisoners per 100,000 male adult population (9.28%).

How long do most women spend in custody?

The majority of women in NSW spend less than six months in prison. The most recent statistical profile of women in prison in NSW indicates that 33.2% of women in prison in 2012/2013 were on remand, awaiting sentence so in custody for very short periods of time.4 65% of women released in 2011 were in custody for three months or less.5

How many women are released from NSW prisons each year?

In 2012/2013, 715 women were released from full-time custody on completion of a sentence.6
In 2012/2013, the percentage of women returning to prison within two years was 38.6%.7 A 2012 study by staff of the NSW Corrections Research, Evaluation and Statistics unit found that Indigenous women were more likely to return to custody compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts. 39.9% of the Indigenous women who entered NSW custody in 2011 returned to corrections custody within a year of release compared to a rate of 25.9% for non-Indigenous women. 50.2% of the Indigenous women who entered NSW custody in 2011 returned to custody within two years of release compared with a rate of 32.8% for non-Indigenous women.8

Most women in prison are mothers. Is that true? Who looks after the kids?

49% of women in prison have children, and 14% have more than three children under the age of 16.9
When fathers are in custody, their children are cared for by their mothers. When mothers are in custody, their children are mostly looked after by other family members or are in out of home care.

What are the most common offences committed by women?

The most common offences/charges for female prisoners in 2015 were: Acts intended to cause injury (19%), Illicit drug offences (18%), Unlawful entry with intent and offences against justice (both 10%).10  In a recent NSW study, the most serious offences of Indigenous women were: Acts intended to cause injury (34.7%), Theft and related (18.9%) and offences against justice procedures (11.9%). For non-Indigenous women in NSW: Acts intended to cause injury (23.6%), Theft and related (16.3%) and Illicit drug offences (11.4%).11

What are the presenting issues for women in the criminal justice system?

The majority of women in prison come from backgrounds of socio-economic disadvantage, have experienced sexual and physical abuse and violence, and a significant proportion have spent time in out of home care as a child. Diagnoses of mental health disorders such as borderline personality disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are prevalent amongst women in prison, and many are also found to have cognitive impairments such as intellectual disability, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and acquired brain injury. Alcohol and other drug dependencies are common, and are often connected to women’s offending behaviour. Homelessness and housing instability is widely reported by women in prison, who also tend to have low levels of educational attainment and minimal employment histories.

A recent NSW study12 found that the average age of women admitted into custody was 32 years, with the average age of Indigenous women being slightly lower than non-Indigenous women at 31 years. Only 52.8% of women in prison had completed Year 10: 60.9% of non-Indigenous women and 39.3% of Indigenous women. 78.8% of women had been receiving government benefits prior to their incarceration. 4.7% of the women had a previous diagnosis of low cognitive function: 5.4% of the Indigenous women and 4.6% of non-Indigenous women.13 63% of women in the study reported to have been treated for a mental health problem. 36.7% reported previous self-harm attempts. 33.8% of women in prison reported to be currently experiencing or expecting to experience withdrawal from drugs.

Aboriginal women are disproportionately over-represented among women in the criminal justice system. What is the actual ratio?

Indigenous women are grossly over-represented in the NSW criminal justice system and are the fastest growing group in prison. A recent study found that Indigenous women comprised 37.8% of all female admissions into NSW custody, whereas they comprise only approximately 2-3% of the female population.14

Where do the majority of women in the criminal justice system come from? What is the geographic distribution?

In a recent study15 of women in prison in NSW, the most common area of residence prior to incarceration was the inner Sydney metropolitan area, accounting for 11.6% of all women in prison. Those living in the inner Sydney metropolitan area comprised 17% of the Indigenous women and 8.5% of non-Indigenous women in prison.
For non-Indigenous women, the Fairfield/Liverpool area of metropolitan Sydney was the most common area to have lived prior to incarceration, followed by central west Sydney, inner Sydney, Newcastle and Canterbury/Bankstown. For Indigenous women it was inner Sydney, Newcastle, Blacktown, outer Western Sydney and Wollongong. Overall, a greater proportion of Indigenous women had lived in country NSW prior to incarceration compared to non-Indigenous women.

References

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015) Prisoners in Australia, 2015, 4517.0,
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2014) Prisoners in Australia, 2014, 4517.0 http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4517.0Main+Features12014?OpenDocument
3 Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (2011) Report on Government Services 2010, Productivity Commission, January.
4 NSW Corrections Research, Evaluation and Statistics (2014) Female Offenders: A Statistical Profile, 6th Edition, http://www.correctiveservices.justice.nsw.gov.au/Documents/Facts-and-Figures_Females-6th-edition.pdf February.
5 Barbara, K & Neto, A. (2014) Comparative Profiling of Female Inmates in New South Wales by Indigenous Status: Statistical Report, NSW Corrections Research, Evaluation & Statistics, August, p. 40.
6 NSW Corrections Research, Evaluation and Statistics (2014) Female Offenders: A Statistical Profile, 6th Edition, http://www.correctiveservices.justice.nsw.gov.au/Documents/Facts-and-Figures_Females-6th-edition.pdf February.
7 NSW Corrections Research, Evaluation and Statistics (2014) Female Offenders: A Statistical Profile, 6th Edition, http://www.correctiveservices.justice.nsw.gov.au/Documents/Facts-and-Figures_Females-6th-edition.pdf February.
8 Barbara, K & Neto, A. (2014) Comparative Profiling of Female Inmates in New South Wales by Indigenous Status: Statistical Report, NSW Corrections Research, Evaluation & Statistics, August.
9 UNSW and the University of Sydney (2015) Women in Prison in NSW Fact Sheet, Women in Prison Task Force Report: 30 Years On Panel Discussion, https://sydney.edu.au/law/criminology/documents/Factsheet.pdf
10 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015) Prisoners in Australia, 2015, 4517.0,
11 Barbara, K & Neto, A. (2014) Comparative Profiling of Female Inmates in New South Wales by Indigenous Status: Statistical Report, NSW Corrections Research, Evaluation & Statistics, August, p. 44.
12 Barbara, K & Neto, A. (2014) Comparative Profiling of Female Inmates in New South Wales by Indigenous Status: Statistical Report, NSW Corrections Research, Evaluation & Statistics, August, p. 14.
13 The rates of people in prison with cognitive impairment is considered to be significantly under-diagnosed – see Baldry, E., McCausland, R, Dowse, L. & McEntyre, E (2015) A predictable and preventable path: Aboriginal people with mental and cognitive disabilities in the criminal justice system.
14 Barbara, K & Neto, A. (2014) Comparative Profiling of Female Inmates in New South Wales by Indigenous Status: Statistical Report, NSW Corrections Research, Evaluation & Statistics, August, p. 8.
15 Barbara, K & Neto, A. (2014) Comparative Profiling of Female Inmates in New South Wales by Indigenous Status: Statistical Report, NSW Corrections Research, Evaluation & Statistics, August, p. 11.