Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research

Recent trends in­­­ the NSW female prison population

Full report: Recent trends in­­­ the NSW female prison population (pdf, 313Kb)

Release date: Wednesday 21 March 2018

The number of women held in NSW prisons increased by 50 per cent (from 682 to 1,021) between 2011 and 2017.

The growth has been particularly marked among Aboriginal women, with the number in prison rising by 74 per cent (from 195 to 340), compared with a 40 per cent growth in the number of non-Aboriginal women in prison over the same time period.

The number of women on remand (unconvicted, awaiting trial) more than doubled between 2011 and 2017. The number of sentenced female prisoners rose by 23 per cent over this period. 

The growth in female imprisonment is not because women are spending longer in custody (in some cases time in custody has reduced). It is mainly due to an increase in the number of women remanded into custody or given a sentence of imprisonment.

BOCSAR investigated several possible explanations for the rise in prisoner receptions, including an increase in women appearing in NSW courts, an increase in the seriousness of female offending; and an increase in the severity of sentencing and a change in the criminal history profile of women appearing before the courts.

BOCSAR found no evidence that courts were imposing harsher penalties on female offenders. Nor is there any evidence that female offending has become more serious.   

The growth in female imprisonment is being driven by two factors. The first is a growth in the number of women appearing before the criminal courts. Between 2011 and 2017, the number of women proceeded against by NSW Police rose by 18 per cent (an additional 405 women each month).

The second is a rise in the number of women with a significant criminal history who are being proceeded against by NSW Police. In 2011 only 18 per cent of women appearing in court in 2011 had one or more prior court appearances. By 2017, almost half of those appearing had one or more prior court appearances.

Repeat offenders are more likely than first offenders to receive a prison sentence. 

Commenting on the findings, the Executive Director of BOCSAR, Dr Don Weatherburn, said the changing criminal history profile of women appearing before the courts was mostly likely a consequence of the increased attention NSW Police were giving to apprehending repeat offenders.

Further Enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 02 8346 1100

Copies of the report: www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au