Aim: To explore a variety of explanations that can potentially account for the 50 per cent increase in the adult female prison population in NSW since 2011.
Method: In general, a rise in the prison population could be the result of an increase in the time spent in custody, or an increase in the number of offenders received into custody. Using multiple sources of NSW criminal justice data, we provide descriptive evidence outlining recent trends in the length of stay (LoS) in custody, as well as changes in the number and offending history of female offenders.
Results: Adult female remand and sentenced receptions have increased 55 and 85 per cent, respectively. In addition, females proceeded against to court by NSW Police have risen 18 per cent. We also observe large increases among Indigenous and non-Indigenous females. The most striking results are the substantial increases in repeat female offenders appearing before a court; for instance, the proportion of females with at least one prior court appearance has increased approximately 162 per cent. In contrast, LoS in custody remained relatively stable, and we do not find evidence that women are committing more serious offences.
Conclusion: Prior offending history is a key determinant in accounting for the increase in the adult female prison population in recent years.
State of New South Wales through the Department of Justice 2018