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Discussion paper

Leaving custody behind: foundations for safer communities and gender-informed criminal justice systems - issues paper

Women prisoners Prison sentences Sentencing Criminal justice Victoria

The purpose of this paper is to highlight the rising rates of women’s incarceration in Victoria and to build foundations for an alternative trajectory. Doing so does not involve raising a new concern. Advocates across the legal and service system have long warned of the growing number of women in prison, especially over the last decade, as systemic drivers quickened the acceleration.

The Centre for Innovative Justice has drawn upon the expertise and experience of these advocates, as well as a growing body of research, to bring attention to:

  • the gendered factors – including almost universal experiences of trauma and victimisation - which drive women into contact with the criminal justice system;
  • the relatively low level of offending in which women become involved and the short periods in custody to which they are repeatedly sentenced as a result; and
  • the disproportionate levels of harm which women experience when they are placed in custody and separated from community, children and service supports.

Many advocates, practitioners, researchers and, most importantly, women with lived experience of the criminal justice system, question the role of women’s prisons when earlier intervention in the experience of victimisation and the development of non-custodial alternatives can provide a more constructive response.

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