Author Amy Pisani, Keely Sinclair and Sara Rahman
Published September 2022
Report Type Bureau Brief No. BB161
Subject Aboriginal / Indigenous Australians; Prisons and prisoners
Keywords Aboriginal over-representation, Imprisonment, Trends

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To examine trends in the Aboriginal adult female custodial population between March 2013 and February 2021.


Descriptive analysis of data extracted from a) Corrective Services NSW’s Offender Information Management System (OIMS) for adult females between March 2013 and February 2021; b) Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) relating to female adult Persons of Interest (POIs) proceeded against between March 2013 and February 2020; and c) NSW Criminal Courts Statistics for adult females between March 2013 and February 2020. This analysis was supplemented by regression analysis using an extract of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) Re-offending Database (ROD) for adult females.


The Aboriginal adult female custodial population increased by 28%, from 224 to 287 between March 2013 and February 2021. The increase in Aboriginal females in prison mostly occurred in the four years from March 2013 to February 2017, after which the population stabilised. The overall increase was due to both a rise in the remand population (up 41% or 35 individuals) and the sentenced custody population (up 20% or 28 individuals).
Several factors contributed to the increase in Aboriginal women in custody. The number of Aboriginal women proceeded against to court by police increased, particularly for assault, intimidation/stalking, theft, fraud, breaches of violence and non-violence orders, illicit drugs and traffic offences. This resulted in an increased number of Aboriginal women sentenced to imprisonment. In addition, this growth in charges increased the remand population through more Aboriginal women being refused bail. We also note a modest increase in the number of bail breaches and bail revocations, and the average length of time spent in remand. Regression analyses showed that the increase in more serious offending among this group has outweighed reductions in the likelihood of imprisonment after the 2018 sentencing reforms.


The number of Aboriginal women in custody has stabilised in recent years. However, increasing rates of offending continue to exert upwards pressure on the Aboriginal female prison population.