This project explored the stories of six ACT women with a variety of lived prison experiences and eight service providers who regularly support women with lived prison experience. The stories are documented in the report Invisible Bars: The stories behind the stats. Institutionalisation continues in Australia today in the form of prisons, remand centres, youth detention centres, mental health facilities and immigration detention centres, to name a few. While this paper focuses mainly on women with lived experience of prison, it argues that prisons cannot be considered in isolation from other institutions and outside the greater context of Australia’s history. Many Australians in prison today have experienced some form of institutional or out-of-home ‘care’ as young people.
There is significant evidence to suggest that institutionalisation has a profoundly negative impact on people’s health and wellbeing, which continues long after they return to the community. Unsurprisingly, the status of Australian women with lived prison experience is frighteningly poor, with research showing that they are more likely to have mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems and to have experienced physical, emotional and sexual violence than women in the broader community. The information gathered in this paper provides significant insight into the impact that imprisonment and institutionalisation has had on the participants’ lives.