• 90 per cent of women in Australian prisons have been victims of sexual and domestic violence. (Custodial Services WA)Source: Custodial Services WA
Legal experts are calling for Indigenous-led solutions to combat high incarceration rates of women and mothers, following a report by the ABC's Four Corners.
Madeline Hayman-Reber

27 Feb 2019 - 5:11 AM  UPDATED 27 Feb 2019 - 5:14 AM

Legal organisations are calling for Governments at both a state and federal level to consider Indigenous-led solutions for the countries high incarceration rates of women.

The calls come after the ABC's Four Corners broadcast an investigation into the high incarceration rates of women, which revealed that up to 90 per cent of women imprisoned around the country have been victims of sexual and domestic violence.

But Indigenous justice organisation Change The Record says the revelations are nothing new - the organisation released a report alongside the Human Rights Law Centre two years ago detailing the issues and proposed solutions.

“It’s again telling the story that we all know and that we’ve been saying for many years about the concerns that we have about the women in our prison system. I think it’s important to highlight that Change The Record in 2017 released the over represented and overlooked report, which has identified those issues for women in prison," Change The Record co-chair Cheryl Axleby told NITV.

"Change The Record have been a very strong advocate, we’ve also developed a blueprint for change for the government to actually look at building communities and trying to defer our people away from the justice system and particularly our women, and particularly women who are living with violence."

Factors around ‘offending’ often include arrest warrants for minor offences, including vagrancy, and non-payment of fines, as there have been multiple examples of in Western Australia, where the controversial 'time-to-pay' law still exists. In some cases, women have called the police on an abusive partner, only to find themselves getting locked up.

Ms Axleby has urged the government to start looking at the causal factors of the offending, and has proposed Indigenous-led solutions to work with women on a community level.

"We maybe need to look at alternatives at what can be done in the community like out there in community corrections - looking at investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities so there are strengths based options for women who come into the prison system and have diverted them away form even coming into the prison system and actually build programs out in the community that the women can undertake."

Meanwhile on a state level, the Human Rights Law Centre in Victoria has urged the Andrews Labor Government to change 'unfair' bail laws, which are driving up remand rates. Incarceration rates of women in Victoria have increased by almost 50 per cent since being implemented, with almost 70 per cent of those women behind bars being mothers.

“Premier Andrews cannot ignore the injustice of women’s over-imprisonment that his government’s bail reforms turbo-charged. The Andrews Government introduced draconian bail laws in response to a particular violent man’s offending, but it is women who are paying the highest price,” Human Rights Law Centre Advocacy Director, Ruth Barson, said.

Housing instability and homelessness are also significant factors in incarceration rates of women. A recent example of this was the state government's shutting down and selling off of public housing estate 'Gatwick' to Channel Nine's television show The Block, which saw at least 32 women charged and imprisoned for vagrant-related offences.

“Nobody should be in prison simply because they don’t have a home, are struggling with addiction or because they have nowhere safe to go. The Andrews Government must create stable housing for women so that they can be safe and rebuild their lives,” Megan Pearce, manager of Women Transforming Justice said.

“The housing situation in Victoria is so desperate that many women entering prison are homeless, and when they leave prison they are forced to stay in dangerous rooming houses, or sleep on the streets once again. The Andrews Government must commit to sustained investment in housing."

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