The latest report on women in prison in WA focuses on dealing with increasing numbers, rather than freeing up spaces by not jailing females unnecessarily.
Women’s prisons shambolic, mostly unnecessary
The report into women’s prisons in WA ignores the main question, says Civil Liberties Australia. “WHY have female prisoner numbers risen 40% in five years,” says CLA State Director Rex Widerstrom. “While the Minister is to be commended for commissioning the report, it focuses on dealing with increasing numbers of female prisoners and not on whether the numbers are appropriate in light of charging and sentencing.
“I’ve sat at Bandyup Prison and had a husband almost in tears telling me how he’s had to give up his job to look after his children because his wife is in prison for driving under a licence suspension. Many of the women in Bandyup are there for non-violent offences; for them, a custodial sentence is entirely inappropriate, and imposes a cost of over $100,000 a year on taxpayers who are being told other public services must be cut to save money.
“Many more are there on remand; we can’t tell how many because the Department has stopped publishing weekly data on prison numbers. The last such report is from the week of 26 June, at which time 106 of 291 prisoners in Bandyup were “unsentenced” – meaning women on remand, deserving of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and of course a portion of those women will be found not guilty.
“Despite the efforts of some very good prison officers, Bandyup Prison is a shambles due to poor management. We took an action before the State Administrative Tribunal alleging discrimination on the basis of gender but this was vehemently denied by the Department of Corrective Services and, based on the testimony of a succession of Superintendents and former Superintendents, the Department prevailed. Yet the very fact that the Minister has felt the need to commission this report, and his comments on radio this morning, prove that there is a difference in the way female prisoners are treated, that it is to their disadvantage, and that therefore the evidence of the Department’s senior officers before the SAT was untrue”.
“If Corrections Minister Joe Francis wants to tackle the myriad of issues around the female prison population, the place to start would be a chat with his cohorts Liza Harvey (Police) and Michael Mischin (Attorney General), asking them to ensure their departments stop over-charging, stop opposing bail for non-violent offences, and work towards Restorative Justice solutions which aim to repair, to the extent possible, the harm done to the victim while minimising the cost to the taxpayer. Anything else isn’t an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff – it’s a hearse,” Mr Widerstrom said.
Contact: Rex Widerstrom