In the last six years, the number of Indigenous women incarcerated in New South Wales grew faster than any other demographic. New research shows that incarceration rates of women climbed 33 percent between March 2013 and June 2019, with almost a third of them Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Narungga woman Cheryl Axleby, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Rights movement and co-chair of Change the record and Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSIL), says it's a systemic issue.
"We're seeing what I call systemic - well, I call it racism in the context - institutionalisation of our mob. That's what's driving our mob into the system."
"When you're looking at the level of offending for women in general, a lot of it is for what we term 'minor offending', where bail should be provided as an option."
Despite the population of Indigenous persons being so low nationwide, Indigenous women make up a large percentage of incarcerated women in Australia, with a 49 percent increase since 2013 - compared to a 6 percent increase among non-Indigenous women.
"This is a trend that we've been seeing for quite some years. We've actually been highlighting this issue...the overrepresentation of our women across the justice system in every state and territory. Nationally the figures are about 34 percent of our women are in the present system. It's absolutely horrific" said Ms Axleby.
Keeping Women Out of Prison Coalition (KWOOP) commissioned the research, and highlighted the issue of remand contributing to the high numbers of women in jail.
Its research suggests that the growth in the number of women in prison is becasue of a 66 percent increase in the proportion of women on remand - not due to crime.
This means that women who may be found innocent still spend time in prison. Indigenous women on average were waiting 34 – 58 days for bail, even though in most cases, the women on remand were not given a sentence.
KWOOP convener Rosalind Strong says it's devastating that the number of Indigenous women incarcerated continues to climb at a rapid rate.
"Unfortunately, many of them have had many short imprisonments, and so they return to prison. That's largely because their circumstances include homelessness, or violence or difficult lives away from community support structures. There is no justification for [almost] 33% of the women imprisoned of Indigenous background when they make up less than 3 percent of the total Indigenous population."
Ms Axleby continues to advocate for investment into diversionary options rather than imprisonment, such as community development and culturally designed programs. She works with NATSILS and FVPLS to call for justice targets to be agreed to under the closing the gap campaign.