Fourfold increase in women sentenced to imprisonment

Media statement

17 August 2022

A new report examining the sentencing of women and girls in Queensland found that the number of women receiving a prison sentence increased by 338 per cent over a 14-year period.

Engendering justice – the sentencing of women and girls, released today by the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, shows that the number of women sentenced to imprisonment increased from 485 cases in 2005–06 to 2,128 cases in 2018–19.

John Robertson, former judge and Chair of the Council, said that the fourfold increase showed the emergence of a sentencing trend of significance.

‘Our research shows that Queensland courts have increasingly sentenced women to imprisonment over time,’ Mr Roberson said.

‘In 2005-06, 1.7 per cent of all sentenced women received a prison sentence. This increased to 6.2 per cent in 2018–19.’

‘This is despite the overall rate of women being sentenced in Queensland courts declining since 2009–10.’

The Council’s findings show that the most common offences women received a prison sentence for were stealing (10%), breach of bail (8.7%), possession of dangerous drugs (7.1%), fraud (6.8%) and assaults occasioning bodily harm (6.0%).

When women were sentenced to imprisonment, most received a prison sentence of less than a year.

‘Our research found that 40 per cent of women sentenced to imprisonment received less than 6 months, and over one-quarter received a sentence of 6 months to a year,’ Mr Robertson said.

‘Most cases still result in courts imposing a fine or other form of non-custodial penalty.’

Queensland’s statistics mirror findings both here and overseas that women’s imprisonment is on the rise.

‘Women’s imprisonment has been increasing in Australia, the United Kingdom and United States of America since the 1980s, and it is increasing at a much faster rate than men’s,’ Mr Robertson said.

‘In Australia, the population of men in prison doubled from 1991 to 2021. At the same time, the female prison population tripled.’

The Council’s report also re-affirmed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls are highly over-represented in the Queensland criminal justice system.

‘The data shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls and women make up close to one‑third of sentenced cases — almost 8 times their level of representation in the general Queensland population,’ Mr Robertson said.

‘This is an even higher level of over-representation compared to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males.’

Concerningly, the Council report found that the level of over-representation is even higher for girls 12 years and under, with the vast majority of sentenced girls in this cohort (74.6%) identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

‘These findings are consistent with previous research findings that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls are more likely to have contact with police and the criminal justice system at an earlier age than non-Indigenous girls,’ Mr Robertson said.

Boneta-Marie Mabo, a Piadram, Munbarra, South Sea Islander woman, Council member and Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel, said the report’s finding that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are most commonly sentenced for public order-type offences as well as justice and government offences, such as breach of bail, is significant.

‘Engendering justice demonstrates that comparatively minor offending leads to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls being sentenced to imprisonment,’ Ms Mabo said.

‘The findings highlight the urgency of addressing the disproportionate incarceration of First Nations women and girls in the Queensland criminal justice system.’

This report is the Council’s fourth report released as part of its Sentencing Profile series. Previous reports include Kids in court, Connecting the dots and a Baseline report.

The Council will be publicly launching Engendering Justice today at a community panel discussion, with expert speakers including the Hon. Margaret McMurdo AC, Debbie Kilroy OAM, Kylie Hillard, Thelma Schwartz and Commissioner Natalie Lewis.

Contact: Steph Martlew

Phone: 37389501

Email: stephanie.martlew@sentencingcouncil.qld.gov.au