Women in Prison
(Question Without Notice, 22 June 2017, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
My question is directed to the Minister for Counter Terrorism, Minister for Corrections, and Minister for Veterans Affairs. Minister, with the number of women in prison growing fast and most women prisoners having been the victim of abuse and imprisoned for less serious offences, what will you do to reform prison procedures and programs to reduce trauma for female prisoners, increase rehabilitation and reduce the risk of reoffending?
Response from Minister for Corrections:
I think the member for Canterbury is making some sort of mating call. I am sorry to disappoint her but I am not that kind of guy. I am happily married. I thank the member for Sydney for his question. He has consistently shown a keen interest in the Corrections space and his genuine concern is admirable.
There has been a substantial increase in the number of female inmates in New South Wales prisons over the past two years. In January 2015 there were 746 female inmates and there were 1,011 females in January 2017, representing an increase of 36 per cent. This has been driven by an increase in the number of female inmates on remand and also an increase in the length of time in prison. Female inmates are more likely to have dependent children, to have suffered trauma in their lives including sexual abuse, and to experience substance abuse and mental health issues.
The New South Wales Government is investing $237 million to reduce reoffending by all inmates. We want to get more inmates in programs, to strengthen staff training and to target persistent offenders. We understand that less crime means fewer victims and a safer community. The majority of female offenders are serving short sentences of less than six months or are held on remand. To address this we are creating rehabilitation units to specifically target female offenders in the Wellington, Mid North Coast and South Coast correctional centres. Participation in the high-intensity units will be mandatory, and inmates will complete the course in four months, ensuring they are ready for release and making a better contribution to the community.
An additional 345 psychologists, community corrections officers and other skilled staff will also be employed by Corrective Services to deliver the programs. The New South Wales Government is also investing $3.8 billion in a prison infrastructure program to help cater to the needs of the rising inmate population, including a dedicated women's facility in Lidcombe to be opened later this year. It will be called the Mary Wade Correctional Centre, after an 11-year-old second fleet convict who became a respected, successful member of the community. Mary Wade was an early and enduring example to all women who want to turn their lives around.
Corrective Services delivers rehabilitation programs for women in relation to anger, domestic violence, alcohol and other drugs, mental health issues and sex offending. These include the Out of the Dark program for women who suffered domestic and family abuse and the Mothers and Children Program to improve the mother and child relationship and reduce the trauma of a mother's incarceration for children. The Intensive Drug And Alcohol Treatment Program is a residential program for inmates who have a drug and/or alcohol problem linked to their offending behaviour. Health care and counselling are also available for women suffering drug dependence, those with mental health issues and those who have been victimised prior to coming into custody. In addition, a new suite of programs to reduce reoffending has been implemented, with the EQUIPS Foundation's Addiction and Aggression programs now available to women inmates. The Corrective Services Industries also gets women prisoners job ready by giving them valuable employment experience and the ability to gain qualifications.
In 2015-16, 508 women in custody attended programs, an increase from 428 in the previous financial year. The highest attendance was for the EQUIPS addiction program, followed by the Intensive Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program. Two crucial initiatives have been developed to assist correctional officers to manage female inmates who have been victims of crime and have experience of trauma in their histories. Trauma-informed practice training for frontline staff has been designed to provide staff with the skills to assist offenders who have a history of exposure to sexual and physical violence. Corrective Services and Victim's Services are jointly facilitating a train‑the‑trainer day for the trauma-informed practice training at the Brush Farm Corrective Services Academy so that it can be rolled out to frontline staff across all sites.
At the end of an inmate's sentence, the Bolwara Transitional Centre at Emu Plains and the Parramatta Transitional Centre provide support for women approaching release from custody. Bolwara provides female inmates who have entrenched issues with alcohol and other drugs and who are in custody for serious offences with a structured environment in which to address their offending behaviour. Corrective Services NSW staff work with external agencies to refer Bolwara residents to appropriate treatment programs, external work release, voluntary work and education. Finally, Miruma is a residential facility at Cessnock that provides a diversionary program for women with coexisting mental health disorders and long-term alcohol and other drugs issues. There is no easy answer when it comes to reoffending, and that is certainly the case with female inmates. The New South Wales Government has committed to reducing adult reoffending by 5 per cent and the Premier has made it a personal priority to reduce domestic violence.
If we get rehabilitation right, we can make a real and lasting difference to the people of New South Wales.