This submission is based on our conversations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls over many years, a roundtable with the AHRC on 10 April 2018, and discussions at our International Conference in November 2018. It is supported by 9 case studies of Indigenous young people with whom Sisters Inside has worked. It details key issues for Indigenous women and girls – child “protection” intervention; intergenerational trauma; systemic racism and criminalisation; intergenerational poverty; failures on the housing, health, education and training systems; systemic violence; and lack of access to services that women and girls perceive as helpful. The submission proposes solutions – that is, alternatives to a carceral approach. These include shutting youth prisons; keeping mothers and children together; decriminalising minor offences; abolishing mandatory sentences; implementing equitable social services; ending systemic violence; and implementing anti-violence strategies led by Indigenous women and girls themselves.
This submission follows our more detailed 2017 submission on the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture … in Australia. It mainly focuses on how OPCAT implementation should prevent harm to women prisoners; the most urgent risks of harm to women prisoners; accessing quality advice (including lived experience advice); and the powers of inspection bodies.
Prepared in response to the associated Discussion Paper, this submission outlines the commitments that Sisters Inside considers should be incorporated in a revised Closing the Gap agenda. In particular, it strongly argues the need for targets and associated commitments to address the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children, and to end the removal of children from their families and communities.
Runs through the draft ALP platform and proposes concrete amendments (with commentary), particularly in relation to the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women/mothers and/or women with disabilities, in areas including health care, domestic violence, child removal, child criminalisation, sentencing, and income support.
Follow-up submission outlining ‘wish list’ of recommendations to increase criminalised women and children’s access to justice. Includes a list of recent studies relevant to the rights and needs of criminalised women.
The vast majority of criminalised women have psychosocial needs (though a minority have a diagnosed mental illness) arising from their history of disadvantage and violence, which are exacerbated by the re-traumatising effects of prison. This submission proposes that most criminalised women will either be ineligible for NDIS or will avoid the application process and funded services. Argues that NDIS funding arrangements make it difficult for community-based services to become NDIS service providers, and that defunding of non-clinical services can be expected to leave many criminalised women without adequate access to support. Without changes to NDIS funding model and processes, increased imprisonment of women (with associated harm to their children and costs to the state) can be expected.
Sisters Inside (2017) Submission by letter to the Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry into incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Sisters Inside, Brisbane (11 pages)
Responds to issues identified in the Australian Law Reform Commission Discussion Paper relevant to criminalised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls. Issues covered include: bail and remand; sentencing and ‘Aboriginality’; sentencing options; prison programs, parole and unsupervised release; fines and drivers licences; justice procedure offences – breach of community-based sentences; Aboriginal justice agreements; access to justice issues; and police accountability.
Brief submission in response to consultation by the Law Council of Australia for its inquiry into access to justice in Australia. Asserts the need for a specific focus on access to justice issues affecting criminalised women (and their children) and recommends a dedicated chapter in the final report.
Details the failure of correctional systems to implement the existing guidelines with criminalised women in Queensland, particularly in relation to treatment of remand prisoners; the classification system; use of strip searching, restraint and solitary confinement; accommodation; health services; in-prison programs; education; development of work skills; and post-release services and support. In light of this, questions the merits of reviewing the Guidelines and raises concerns about the risk of the Review leading to the watering down of human rights aspirations in the treatment of women prisoners. Recommends that the existing Guidelines should be made mandatory for all corrections authorities in Australia.
Identifies key weaknesses in the current prison inspection framework in Queensland and more widely, and highlights the failure of these regimes to meet international human rights standards. In particular, the Queensland system fails to meet OPCAT accountability requirements and take on the requisite preventative role. Argues that key elements of an OPCAT-compliant system should be instituted in legislation. Details the most urgent human rights breaches requiring attention, with a particular focus on strip searching, prison overcrowding; mistreatment of Indigenous women in police watch houses; mistreatment of pregnant women prisoners; and systemic mistreatment of child prisoners.
This submission was to the review of Commonwealth-funded Reconnect services which aim to prevent homelessness amongst 12 – 18 year olds. Using the Sisters Inside Crucial Connections program as an example, it promotes the critical role of specialist services (as distinct from geographically-based services) in meeting the needs of highly marginalised and disadvantaged cohorts of young people (such as criminalised, refugee and LGBTIQ young people). It advocates that specialist services remain part of the Reconnect service model mix. Includes case studies and detailed data about the young people Sisters Inside works with to demonstrate the need for this type of service.
Many women prisoners have experienced institutional child sexual abuse. This submission values the Royal Commission’s recognition of prisoners as an important cohort in their inquiries and proposals for changes in victim/survivor evidence. Raises serious concerns about the viability of other proposed strategies, particularly for criminalised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls. Proposes alternate approaches to witness assistance services, working with children checks and preventing future sexual abuse (particularly in youth prisons).
Demonstrates the nexus between cognitive disability, mental health issues more widely and criminalisation, including recent evidence of high rates of PTSD amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women prisoners. It highlights bail refusal to women with cognitive disabilities due to the failure of state-funded services to address their needs, and demonstrates the false economy of continuing existing ineffective models of service (imprisonment and case management).
Supports the 6 National Outcomes, but demonstrates that national strategies have not produced discernable benefits for criminalised women (most of whom have a history of DFV). Proposes an explicit focus on criminalised women survivors of DFV, through a 7th National Priority targeting reduced rates of violence amongst marginalised and disadvantaged women.
Includes detailed evidence (54 footnotes). This submission examines the nexus between domestic violence, disadvantage and criminalisation. This includes a focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women in remote communities. It addresses the ‘on the ground’ implications of de-gendered domestic violence laws for women, and the contribution of DV and criminalisation to increased disadvantage and homelessness. The submission proposes reforms to legislation and the social security system, and funding of adequate housing, legal and support services for criminalised women.
Sisters Inside (2013) Submission to: Inquiry into the Value of a Justice Reinvestment Approach to Criminal Justice in Australia (The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs), Sisters Inside, Brisbane (30 pages)
Includes detailed evidence (89 footnotes). This submission argues the importance of responding to the specific profile and needs of women and child prisoners, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, when designing a ‘justice reinvestment’ program. In particular, it argues the need to address the drivers behind increased imprisonment of women and children (including poverty, multi-generational criminalisation, a history of abuse in state care and over-policing). It provides quantitative and qualitative data on the social and economic costs of imprisoning women and children. The submission proposes viable alternatives to imprisoning women and examines the principles and practices essential to effective delivery of diversionary services
Draws on evidence detailed in Sisters Inside’s earlier (2009) submission to the National Human Rights Consultation. It focuses on the NHRAP’s failure to address the particular justice issues faced by women, girls and their children, in particular ongoing breaches of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ human rights. Issues raised include excessive use of remand with women and children; the nexus between poverty/homelessness and criminalisation; discrimination against women with limited English; and the lack of adequate health care in prison. It also argues that the NHRAP inadequately addresses systemic violence against women and children (e.g. use of force by police; violent prison practices including strip searching; and institutional violence against women with disabilities). It proposes that Australian legislation should unreservedly support and legislate internationally agreed human rights, and provide compensation for miscarriage of justice.
Includes detailed evidence (101 footnotes) on the wide variety of issues affecting criminalised women, girls and their children. Summarises recent state and national reviews of women prisoners’ human rights. Details violations of their rights in Queensland in terms of sex discrimination and gender equality, including access to justice, treatment of women prisoners, right to health and safety and right to education. Also examines multi-discrimination against minority groups of criminalised women including race discrimination and Indigenous rights; disability discrimination; and age discrimination. Examines human rights violations against the children and families of women prisoners, and supports legislating human rights in Australia.
Focuses on the model of service best suited to responding to the needs of homeless women who are criminalised or at risk of criminalisation. The model of service Planned Support was an early iteration of the current Sisters Inside model Inclusive Support, which was developed through the 2006-7 National Homeless Strategy Demonstration Project.
Proposes removing barriers to family safety for criminalised women and their children including legislative and procedural reform, addressing the impact of imprisonment, meeting basic human rights and improving support services. Offers successful models and programs to address the effects of family violence.
Sisters Inside (2005) Submission of Sisters Inside to the 2005 Inquiry of the Australian Law Reform Commission on Sentencing of Federal Offenders [ALRC Issues Paper 29], Sisters Inside, Brisbane (27 pages)
Having identified the lack of data on sentencing of women, focuses on transfer/location of prisoners, equality of treatment of Federal prisoners, non-custodial options, consistency vs discretion in sentencing, administrative systems, parole decisions, revocation of parole, mental health issues, and children and other ‘special needs’ prisoners.,
Sisters Inside (2003) Submission: Poverty in Australia Inquiry, Sisters Inside, Brisbane (24 pp)
This landmark submission draws on independent research undertaken by Sisters Inside which continues to provide a benchmark for analysis. Describes SIS programs and projects at the time, provides a statistical overview of the women’s prison population and trends, and draws on interviews with 100 women prisoners in BWCC undertaken during 2000 (and detailed in Kilroy (2000) When Will you See the Real Us?). Particularly focuses on Indigenous women prisoners, mothers in prison and very young women prisoners. Addresses sexual assault of prisoners by the state, use of isolation, the importance of language and the economic drivers of women’s imprisonment.