2. Executive summary and recommendations
In August 2004, the Anti–Discrimination Commission Queensland (ADCQ) began a broad review of the treatment of women prisoners in Queensland. Significantly, the focus of the review was on the prison system and its impact on women prisoners.
Since the ADCQ began this review, the Queensland Department of Corrective Services (DCS) has implemented significant improvements in a number of policies and procedures affecting women prisoners.
The challenge in 2006 and beyond is for the DCS to continue this work. While these recent changes (and some proposed changes) have benefited or will benefit women prisoners, this Report has identified that the legislation, as well as many other policies and practices, need to take account of the specific circumstances of women prisoners.
What are these specific circumstances?
Women prisoners are victims as well as offenders. Very few are serious violent offenders. They pose little risk to public safety. Many are single parents with dependent children. More than half have been diagnosed with a specific mental illness. Significant numbers have been drug users, and more than 40% have been victims of non-consensual sexual activity, often as young girls.
This Report is timely. The DCS has advised that it will be preparing new legislation in 2006 as part of its review of the Corrective Services Act 2000. The new legislation must address the matters raised in this Report.
The Report has also identified particular practices that may discriminate against some women prisoners. Having identified potential discriminatory practices, the Report recommends that the DCS addresses them. As well, individual women prisoners have a statutory right to lodge a complaint with the ADCQ and seek to prove unlawful discrimination.
This Report makes 68 recommendations. While each is important and demands serious attention from the Department of Corrective Services, the Queensland Government and others, the main issues are:
There are legitimate concerns that classification instruments and procedures may result in over-classification of women prisoners. Proposed new legislation, policy and procedures need to ensure that the classification tool accurately measures the security risk of women prisoners, but does not discriminate against women, including various minority groups. The ADCQ is of the view that the present classification system has the potential to discriminate against women prisoners generally, but particularly against prisoners who are Indigenous and those with a mental illness.
Children's needs are inadequately addressed. The Queensland Government explicitly acknowledges that the best interests of children are paramount, but this is not reflected in sentencing decisions affecting women, or in the treatment of women and their children in prison. Legislative reform is recommended to ensure the best interests of children are considered, both in sentencing and in the prison system.
Mental health issues are often ignored. Many women with mental illness are inappropriately detained in prison while their mental health needs are left unattended. Women prisoners have a much higher rate of mental health problems than men prisoners, but their needs are not presently addressed. A significant increase in resources is necessary if women with mental illness are to be properly dealt with within the correctional system. Proposed changes to crisis support units, including a reduction in strip-searching, are welcomed, but address only part of this problem. Much more is needed.
Indigenous women are especially at risk of discrimination in prison. The prison system does not adequately attend to the unique needs of Indigenous women, despite providing a wide range of programs that cater for specific needs of female Indigenous prisoners. Consideration of alternatives to prison, including healing lodges and better post-release and transitional support services, is a critical step to avoid high rates of re-offending.
Some recommendations will ensure a more effective prison system, for both men and women. They are:
increased training for all corrective services' staff about unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment, mental health issues, Indigenous issues, and non-discriminatory dealing with prisoners from culturally and linguistically diverse communities;
the creation of an independent, statutory office of Chief Inspector of Prisons, which reports directly to Parliament to ensure independence from the DCS and builds an organisational culture that values genuine, critical reflection about the purposes stated in the Corrective Services Act 2000.
Many of this Report's recommendations require changes to legislation, policy and practice. They also require proper resources so they can be implemented by the DCS for practical effect and positive outcomes.
Such significant change also needs to be transparent and documented in a way that is readily available to the public. This Report recommends that the DCS publicly reports on implementation in its 2005-06 and 2006-07 Annual Reports.
On-going effective community engagement with all relevant stakeholders such as advocacy organisations and community groups will ensure that issues of women prisoners are heard.
Finally, the ADCQ is committed to ensuring that Queensland has a non-discriminatory and effective correctional system, which meets the needs of women prisoners in Queensland, and accordingly is committed to working with the DCS, relevant advocacy and community groups, other accountability agencies of government and women prisoners themselves to achieve that end.
Recommendations: Executive summary
Recommendation No. i
That the Department of Corrective Services address matters raised in the Report on the Review into Women in Prison in their current review of the Corrective Services Act 2000.
Recommendation No. ii
That the Department of Corrective Services, as a matter of priority, identify and take appropriate action to address possible discrimination against women prisoners raised in this Report.
Recommendation No. iii
That the Department of Corrective Services include in its annual reports for 2005-06 and 2006 07 its progress on recommendations made in this Report.
Consolidated list of recommendations
i That the Department of Corrective Services address matters raised in the Report on the Review into Women in Prison in their current review of the Corrective Services Act 2000.
ii That the Department of Corrective Services, as a matter of priority, identify and take appropriate action to address possible discrimination against women prisoners raised in this Report.
iii That the Department of Corrective Services include in its annual reports for 2005–06 and 2006–07 its progress on recommendations made in this Report.
Custodial infrastructure and classification
- That the Department of Corrective Services, when planning for any future custodial infrastructure for women, gives the highest priority to developing smaller facilities based upon community living, with prison regimes and practices that encourage positive and supportive interaction between staff and residents and the greater community.
- That the Department of Corrective Services:
- develops classification instruments based on the specific characteristics of men and women; and
- draws up a schedule for testing the reliability and validity of classification instruments, for all prisoners including those from Indigenous or other minority groups.
The DCS should publicly release the reports of such research.
- That corrective services legislation states that female prisoners be classified at the lowest level of security necessary to ensure the good order and security of prisons and the security of the community.
- That proposed legislation changes ensure:
- female prisoners on remand be classified in the same way as other female prisoners; and
- long term remand prisoners be assessed under the Offender Risk/Needs Inventory and not be deprived of necessary programs and training.
- That women prisoners be placed in the least restrictive environment possible and, in particular, the highest priority be given to the interests of children in determining the placement of their mothers serving full–time sentences.
- That the Department of Corrective Services researches and analyses the elements that contribute to the success of the Warwick Women's Work Camp model and apply those principles to any new facilities that are developed for women.
- That women residents of the Numinbah Correctional Centre who require hospital or dental treatment not be transferred and housed in the secure S1 facility in Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre, and not be subjected to mandatory strip–searching. In accessing medical or dental treatment, they should not be housed in any facility other than open classification accommodation.
- That the Department of Corrective Services reviews its written and oral information provided to prisoners upon reception and throughout their sentence to ensure they better understand the classification and Offender Risk/Needs Inventory assessment processes, the sentence management process and other issues including conditional and community release.
Low security facilities
- That the Department of Corrective Services prioritises the establishment of its proposed new work camps for women in North Queensland and South–East Queensland.
- That alternatives to the Numinbah Correctional Centre and Townsville Correctional Centre be developed for housing low security female prisoners as soon as possible. Such alternatives should accord women the appropriate and usual security levels for open classification prisoners and should be entirely separate from institutions for male offenders. The facilities should be designed to meet the needs of female prisoners.
- That the Department of Corrective Services, as a matter of highest priority, ensures that at least one existing low security facility for women be made fully accessible for prisoners with physical disabilities, and that this also be a high priority for all other existing low security facilities for women.
- That the Department of Corrective Services provides the necessary, and possibly additional, support services for women with mental health or intellectual disabilities to have the same opportunity to be accommodated in low security facilities as women without those disabilities.
- That the Department of Corrective Services ensures any new correctional facilities are designed and constructed to be fully accessible for people with a disability.
- That the Department of Corrective Services provides statistical information annually on women who are released at the earliest possible release date (either as conditional release or post–prison community–based release), and the number and percentage of such women who are Indigenous offenders be reported.
- That the Department of Corrective Services takes steps to address potential systemic discrimination issues within the control of the prison authorities, such as valid classification assessments; access to culturally appropriate programs; and development of viable release plans, which may prevent Indigenous women being granted conditional release and post– prison community–based release at the same rate as non–Indigenous women.
- That the Department of Corrective Services evaluates the progress of women with mental health and intellectual disabilities through each stage of the prison regime to identify and take steps to address issues of potential indirect and systemic discrimination.
- That the Department of Corrective Services develops specific programs for Indigenous women to provide opportunities and support for community release.
- That the independent justice strategy reviews associated with the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Agreement be provided with relevant statistics to examine the development, implementation and evaluation of the success of conditional release programs for Indigenous women.
- That prison authorities, at all times, be aware of the development and use of any new technologies or less intrusive methods of search that can replace the need for routine strip–searching in secure prisons. Any equally effective and viable but less intrusive and humiliating alternatives that are developed, should immediately replace routine strip–searching.
- That alternative accommodation arrangements need to be made as a matter of highest priority for those women who are classified as low security but who are accommodated in high security facilities. These women are undergoing an unreasonable and unacceptable number of routine strip–searches.
- That the Department of Corrective Services continues to review and reduce the number of routine strip–searches performed on women in the crisis support units. Further, that a new directive be issued to reflect current practice of reducing the number of strip searches in crisis support units.
- That the Department of Corrective Services reviews and amends its policies and practices to ensure that female prisoners are not being treated less favourably than male prisoners, in having to undergo numerous strip– searches during inter–prison visits.
Rehabilitation and social reintegration
- That the Department of Corrective Services recognises and ensures that its responsibility for the rehabilitation of offenders within its care be given a similar effort in policy and resourcing as its responsibility to ensure community safety.
- That particular program needs of female prisoners be assessed and analysed independently of those for men to ensure that appropriate courses are designed and developed for them.
- That programs be critically evaluated on a regular basis to determine the effect they are having on offending behaviour and whether they are assisting women to reintegrate successfully into the community.
- That the current proposal by the Department of Corrective Services that resources be put into developing and delivering programs at the optimal time to benefit prisoners in their rehabilitation, be implemented and evaluated as a high priority.
- That a systemic recognition and provision for the special needs of prisoners with intellectual, cognitive or learning impairments occur to ensure these prisoners can successfully access core programs.
- That women in prison for fewer than 12 months and women on remand for lengthy periods benefit from participating in core programs. As a component of its responsibility to rehabilitate offenders, the Department of Corrective Services must be sufficiently funded to provide core program resources to short term offenders.
Vocational and educational training
- That any College of Technical and Further Education or other certificates awarded to a female prisoner for the completion of a course not have the prison's address recorded on the certificate.
- That prison authorities develop and provide a systemic approach to recognising and providing for the vocational education and training of prisoners with intellectual disabilities.
Work and industry opportunities
- That the Department of Corrective Services takes steps to ensure that the scope for prison industries to provide for rehabilitative services through job–skilling for women is realised.
- That the Department of Corrective Services reviews its policy on bonus payments to ensure that, in determining who should be paid bonuses, unlawful direct or indirect discrimination under the Anti–Discrimination Act 1991 does not occur.
Drug and substance abuse
- That the Queensland Government and Department of Justice and Attorney–General increase the areas in which the Drug Court operates, to ensure that the sentencing options available to it apply to all eligible female offenders across all state postcodes.
- That access to substance abuse programs while in prison be extended to short term and remandee female prisoners wherever possible. Such programs need to be specifically designed for women and should address the needs of Indigenous women.
Mental health issues
- That more and improved community sentencing options be developed and supported by the Department of Corrective Services, to ensure there are properly resourced pathways to divert offenders with mental health issues from the prison system, when this is an appropriate sentencing option.
- That the Queensland Government addresses the systemic issues in the provision of its overall services (including health, housing, police and justice) to persons with mental illness with a view to reducing the over–representation of women with mental illness in state prisons.
- That there be an enhancement of services for the identification and treatment of mental illness for women in custody including:
- rehabilitation and treatment programs for all women prisoners with a mental health issue. This should account for the complex needs of some prisoners, including varying levels of cognitive capacity and the ability to provide informed consent to participation;
- increased access to intensive care facilities for acutely mentally unwell prisoners, by improving psychiatric services generally, including the opening of additional beds in secure psychiatric medical facilities. The detention of such prisoners in the crisis support units of women's prisons is inappropriate.
- additional support for counselling and therapeutic approaches to assist female prisoners with mental illness.
- identifying alternative and cost–effective ways of treating personality disorders.
- That the Department of Corrective Services puts a greater emphasis on developing and strengthening protective factors within women's prisons to mitigate against self–harm and suicide. The proposed legislative amendments should detail that a distressed prisoner should be placed in a crisis support unit as a last resort, and only occur if the woman is a risk to other prisoners or staff. Prisoners should not be secluded if they do not pose a risk to others. Individual care plans should specify the measures required to manage the risk of self–harm and suicide safely, including removal to a specialist mental health facility if required.
- That a higher level of resources and a multi–disciplinary approach be used to address substance abuse, mental health and sexual assault issues of women prisoners. In particular, a multi–disciplinary approach should make use of non–prison–based and community–based organisations with particular expertise in the areas of substance abuse, mental health and sexual assault.
- That all prison staff receive mandatory training on the identification and provision of appropriate responses to prisoners experiencing mental health problems. These skills need to be developed and maintained.
- That the establishment and adequate resourcing of step down accommodation facilities be put in place for women with mental illness on their release from prison.
Other health issues
- That mobile breast screening services be provided within the prison facility on a regular basis to prisoners who are of the age group where routine screening is recommended best practice.
- That male prison officers not be assigned responsibility to conduct regular observations of women in observation units or inspections of women at night.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women
- That the Department of Corrective Services researches, considers and implements strategies that aim to reduce potential systemic discrimination against Indigenous women in the corrections system.
- That the Department of Corrective Services investigates models for programs and facilities that address the unique needs of Indigenous women prisoners, and in particular when designing and building new facilities for female prisoners in North Queensland.
- That the Department of Corrective Services increases the employment of Indigenous female staff in women's prisons to assist in addressing ongoing issues of rehabilitation and recidivism of Indigenous prisoners.
- That the Department of Corrective Services researches the effectiveness of introducing Indigenous healing programs for Indigenous female prisoners in Queensland.
Young women in prison
- That the Queensland Government immediately legislates to ensure that the age at which a child reaches adulthood for the purposes of the criminal law in Queensland be18 years.
- That it is not in the best interests of 17 year old offenders to be placed in an adult prison, or for correctional authorities to place a female 17 year old offender in a protection unit of an adult prison. The Queensland Government and correctional authorities should take immediate steps to cease this practice.
Culturally and linguistically diverse prisoners
- That prison authorities routinely access telephone interpreting services for prisoners who are not confident in the English language, for the reception process and any discussion involving their case management, health or other issues of significance.
- That prison authorities make all reasonable efforts to ensure programs are accessible to prisoners from non–English speaking backgrounds.
- That prison authorities take all reasonable steps to ensure literature and reading material is provided to prisoners in their own language.
- That prison authorities take reasonable steps to cater for the dietary requirements of inmates from different cultural backgrounds without cost to the prisoner.
- That prison authorities take reasonable steps to accommodate the differing needs and religious observances of prisoners from culturally diverse backgrounds.
Women prisoners who are mothers of dependent children
- That the Queensland Government considers alternatives to custody including home detention, periodic detention and community service orders for women with dependent children.
- That the Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian undertakes research to identify the impact on children of women in incarceration.
- That section 9 of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1991 be amended to include the principle that the best interests of the child be a factor to be considered when sentencing a person with a dependent child.
- That prisons which accommodate dependent children with their mothers provide adequate living and play space and organised activities for those children, in accordance with community standards.
- That the Department of Corrective Services expands and further develops mothers and children's units, in which imprisoned mothers may be accommodated with their children. These should be separate facilities, which are family–friendly and staffed by specially trained corrections officers.
- That the Department of Corrective Services reviews the policy of family contact for women prisoners of dependent children, including the use of free video conferencing and facilitation of family visits.
- That women with children who are leaving prison be provided with transitional assistance after release from prison, particularly in securing appropriate accommodation, financial support and employment, and in accessing health and welfare services.
Transgender female prisoners
- That corrective authorities should operate on the presumption that transgender prisoners ought to be accommodated in facilities which are appropriate to their gender identification. This presumption should be subject to an option of these prisoners being placed in either a male or a female prison if they have legitimate safety concerns about being placed in a prison of their self–identification.
- That all medical needs of transgender prisoners be addressed while they are in prison including provision of hormone treatment and necessary physical and psychological support services.
- That transgender prisoners have a choice about being placed 'in protection' if they decide this is the safest environment, and they should suffer no disadvantage of entitlements from this choice.
Accountability of prisons
- That all corrective services staff receive mandatory training and information about unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment, Indigenous issues and dealing with people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
- That research and statistics produced by the Department of Corrective Services on offenders in the corrective services system includes the following data: gender, race, disability and the impact on dependent children of incarcerated parents.
- That legislation be enacted to ensure that the Office of Chief Inspector of Prisons has the power to bring independent scrutiny to the standards and operational practices of correctional services throughout Queensland. This jurisdiction should also extend to juvenile detention centres. The legislation must ensure that:
- the Office is properly independent of the Department of Corrective Services and the Department of Communities;
- the Office is answerable to and reports directly to Parliament.
The government must ensure that the Office is adequately resourced to perform its role.
- That the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission conducts a review into how the justice and prison systems across Australia are dealing with women with mental health issues.