Treating Disadvantage? A Gendered Exploration of Women’s Offending, Post-Release Experiences and Needs

From the March 2017 edition of Parity Magazine: I Shall Be Released: Post-Release and Homelessness

By Jacki Holland, Policy and Research Specialist (Emerging Focus Areas), Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand

Prisoners lose jobs, become more indebted and lose social capacity; homes are forfeited, families are fractured, and relationships lost; circumstances are created in which housing and financial insecurity flourish. Former prisoners are far more likely to return to prison if they experience post-release homelessness or debt.(1) Female ex-prisoners are more vulnerable to both of these factors than men. Accessing safe, suitable and affordable housing is a major post-release challenge for female prisoners, particularly single mothers, and major contributor to the risk of reoffending over forty per cent of female prisoners in Victoria exit prison into homelessness.(2) Systemic gender-based inequalities and discrimination that drive many of the factors that commonly precede women’s criminalisation and leave them disproportionately vulnerable to financial and housing insecurity.

The escalating rate of women’s imprisonment and the increasingly complex profile of the female prison population paints a very particular picture that contextualises women’s pathways to criminality, propensity for homelessness and other post release challenges, and exposure to risk factors for reoffending. In the mid-1970s women accounted for under three per cent of the Australian prison population. That percentage has today risen to above eight.(3) This striking upward trajectory (even more marked amongst Indigenous women(4)) is not simply a reflection of escalating criminality in female Australians.(5) It represents also, a manifestation of converging social and legal policies, enforcement practices and differences in the experience of disadvantage and discrimination on the basis of gender, race, sexuality and ability that imprisoned women experience.(6)

Women’s Pathways to Prison

In the community generally, women’s economic security is more tenuous than that of the male population – women and girls face gender-specific challenges to their economic security that are consistent across their life course…

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The May 2017 edition: Revisiting Homelessness Data

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