woman silhouetted with a barbed wire fence

Justice reinvestment for women in prison

During March, WCHM was pleased to receive some good news from Shane Rattenbury, the Minister for Corrections and Justice Health about plans to include initiatives for female detainees in the a new justice reinvestment program for the ACT: Building Communities Not Prisons. Following is the additional information he provided about the individual initiatives for female detainees and some further work that is in development.

Women’s incarceration—Justice Reinvestment

In the ACT, and more broadly across Australia, we’re unfortunately seeing an unprecedented increase in rates of women’s incarceration. This is shifting the work of ACT Correctional Services (ACTCS) to increase the focus on female offender programs and rehabilitation.

The lives of women, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, who enter the justice system are often marked by acute disadvantage. The overwhelming majority are survivors of physical and sexual violence and suffer the effects of trauma and many struggle with housing insecurity, poverty, mental illness and/or disability.

Incarceration can lead to diminishing financial security, which is already a major issue for many women involved in the justice system, lead to loss of employment, loss of housing and belongings. Prison time has also been shown to increase the likelihood of family and relationship breakdown.

As the Victorian Department of Justice has reported, women generally respond differently than men to correctional intervention, with factors such as anxiety about the welfare and care of children, and concern about losing the right to spend time with children, disrupting rehabilitation efforts.

Female Offender Framework

We understand that here is a clear need for the development of specific initiatives that acknowledge the gender-specific needs of female prisoners, and place female rehabilitation as a central criminal justice priority in its own right, not merely as a complement to a male-centric model, as raised by the Australian Institute of Criminology. From the middle of this year, ACTCS will begin work and consultation on a Female Offender Framework, which will cover the needs of women in full time custody as well as those in community corrections. As part of ongoing continuous improvement ACTCS is undertaking a full review of all policies and procedures to ensure they are contemporary in the current Corrections environment.

Building Communities Not Prisons (BCNP)

The key immediate priorities of the BCNP approach are:

– Improving rehabilitation options for detainees at the AMC, including a purpose built “Reintegration Centre”;

– Providing more pathways for safe and sustainable bail; and

– supported accommodation.

Improving rehabilitation options for detainees at the AMC, including a purpose built “Reintegration Centre”

Together with the ACT Government’s commitment to defer any future expansion of the high security campus of the AMC, a more prudent and long-term plan has been developed that will see the eventual construction of a new, minimum security Reintegration Centre, just outside the perimeter of the existing footprint and in close proximity to the Transitional Release Centre.

The recent Budget Review has allocated funds for the commencement of design work for the Reintegration Centre .  The needs of women in detention will be closely considered as part of this planning. While female accommodation may eventually not be considered best placed within the new Centre, the creation of up to 80 new beds in the Reintegration Centre will free up beds within the AMC, creating new opportunities for improved placement of all detainees. The new Centre will also form part of a revised incentive system that will bring us in line with most other jurisdictions.

WCHM looks forward to working with the Minister to inform these initiatives.