Sisters Inside

Debbie Kilroy OAM is one of Australia’s leading advocates for protecting the human rights of women and children through decarceration - the process of moving away from using prisons and other systems of social control in response to crime and social issues.

Debbie’s passion for justice is the result of her personal experience of the criminal (in)justice system and an unwavering belief that prison represents a failure of justice. Debbie was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment for drug trafficking in 1989. She witnessed the only murder inside an Australian women’s prison, and was stabbed herself during the incident. Whilst in prison, Debbie lost almost everything: her marriage, her home and her children.

Debbie was in prison during a brief period of reform, allowing her to access opportunities for education, employment and day release, sharpening her special skill to ‘think around corners’. During her time in prison, Debbie worked hard for a degree in Social Work and took on the huge task of turning her life around. Since then, she has qualified as a Gestalt Therapist and Legal Practitioner, and has completed a Graduate Diploma of Forensic Mental Health.

After her release in 1992, Debbie established Sisters Inside, which advocates for the human rights of women in the criminal justice system and responds to gaps in the services available to them. Sisters Inside isn’t just another service provider: it is an organisation of women with shared experiences supporting each other to change their lives and change the system. Sisters Inside has won international recognition for its work and its unique structure which ensures it is driven by women with lived prison experience.

In 2003, Debbie was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for services to the community for working with women in prison. She was also awarded the Australian Human Rights Medal in 2004 and a Churchill Fellowship to explore decarceration strategies and programs internationally in 2014. In 2017, Debbie was appointed to the Queensland Government Sentencing Advisory Council. Debbie was admitted to the legal profession by the Supreme Court of Queensland in 2007 – a rare achievement for someone with serious convictions. She now has her own law firm and (in addition to her work as CEO of Sisters Inside) is one of Queensland’s leading criminal solicitors. She is also a qualified social worker and gestalt therapist

Debbie is in demand as a keynote speaker. Her story is a compelling one of redemption and of a woman who stopped at nothing to turn her life around. She provides a rich and interesting insight into a life fully lived. An engaging public speaker, Debbie has shared her experiences and delivered keynote addresses on a range of topics with a wide variety of audiences across Australia, the USA and Canada. Some of the topics on which Debbie has presented keynote addresses and presentations include: Aboriginal women and criminalisation, youth justice, strip searching, domestic and family violence, sentencing, decarceration, human rights, homelessness, community safety, women prisoners, discrimination, disability, (forensic) mental health and prison labour. To make a booking, please contact Sisters Inside at [email protected].

Debbie's past speaking engagements

Debbie has spoken at local, national and international conferences and forums, often with a particular focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women:

  • Legal conferences - hosted by Queensland Law Society, National Judicial College of Australia/ANU College of Law and Australian Institute of Criminology.
  • Youth sector events - including Australian Rural Leadership Programs, National Youth Law Juvenile Justice Forum, and Youth Law & Juvenile Justice Conference.
  • Corrections events - hosted by Tasmanian Department of Justice, Australian Institute of Criminology, SA & NSW Departments of Corrective Services, and Australian & New Zealand Education Law Association.
  • Medical conferences - including National Dental Conference, Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Conference, and Australian Hep C Conference.
  • Arts events - including Brisbane Writers Festival, Dooitt Awards, and Ladyfest Cultural Arts Festival.
  • United Nations events - including sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women (New York), DPI/NGO Conferences (New York), CURE Conferences (Geneva) and UN Forum on Housing (Brisbane).
  • Education sector events - including Business Educators Association of Queensland Conference, Network of Women Students Australia (NOWSA) Conference, International Conference on Human Rights Education, and Brisbane Catholic Education Principal’s Conference.
  • Domestic & family violence events – hosted by Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research, Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and Queensland Sexual Assault Workers.
  • Community services events - including National Homelessness Conferences, Disabled Justice Forum, Community Sectors Future Conference (ACT Council of Social Services), Communities in Control Conference (Our Communities Inc. & Centacare Catholic Family Service) and International Conference on Engaging Communities.
  • Women’s events – including Women Leading in Australia Conference, Women’s Psychology Conference and Women in Corrections Conference.