Women in prison NSW 1970-2010

Vulnerable Groups in prison: Women in NSW

A Statistical and Policy Account 1970 - 2010



NSW was the only Australian state where the rate of imprisonment of women did not decrease during the 1970s (Rinaldi 1977:181). The Nagle Royal Commission estimated that the daily prison population included 102 women, more than twice the numbers in any other state, and that ‘half the women in NSW were in for more than 2 years’ (Rinaldi 1977:182). It must be noted that NSW was and is the most populous state but rates per 100,000 for women prisoners, that would provide comparability with other states, are not available in any reliable form for the 1970s.

There was an overall decline of 50% in annual receptions of women under sentence – from 778 in 1970-71 to 386 in 1979-80.  However, the population of female prisoners in custody on 30 June, 1971 which was 81 (68 of whom were sentenced), doubled to 166 (103 sentenced) on 30 June 1984.  Thus, fewer sentences were handed out but sentences for women became longer.  The proportion of women sentenced to less than three months declined from 83% of receptions in 1970-71 to 65% in 1979-80; sentenced to between three months and 2 years increased from 15% to 22%; and to two years or more from 2% to 12%.  So in the period 1971-1974 there was an increase in the number of women serving long prison terms and a decrease in those serving shorter sentences.  Thus, 54% of the 1971 population had been in custody under sentence for less than 3 months compared to 38% in 1974. In 1971, 7% had been in custody for over one year compared to 18% in 1974. 

Women were less likely to be imprisoned for minor offences such as prostitution, vagrancy, drunkenness or ‘unseemly words’ (Miner & Gorta 1986).  This may be attributed to decriminalization of certain minor offences during the 1970s, which reduced receptions for both men and women – and in this sense, those legislative changes were successful in reducing prison populations and diverting offenders (Miner 1987).  Receptions for drug offences increased from 13 women in 1970-71 (2% of all receptions) to 65 women in 1979-80 (17% of all receptions) (Miner & Gorta 1986).

The numbers on short sentences were apparently not provided with any ‘constructive programme’ and were ‘simply held in custody during the duration of their sentence’ (Bacon et al 1976a: 41).   Further, from 1972-1975 the recidivism rate for women at Mulawa was 50%, with the ‘recidivist’ represented by ‘a social offender with a long history of convictions for such crimes as prostitution, drunkenness or vagrancy, often stretching back into childhood (Bacon 1976a: 41-2). 

The largest proportion of women incarcerated according to a 1972 study (DCS 1975a) were convicted of drug offences, drunkenness, vagrancy and prostitution. Almost 30% were convicted of non-violent offences against property (false-pretences or larceny), and there had been an increase in women convicted of violent offences (break enter and steal in particular).   However from 1971-1974 there was a marked decrease in offences of a social nature (due to reduced arrests for prostitution or vagrancy as noted above) and an increase in offences of violence and property offences.  This was apparently due to ‘a degree of increased control’ that women had attained over their lives - leading women to carry out crimes ‘formerly only committed by men’ (Bacon et al 1976: 60) as well as decriminalization of many ‘street offences’. The number of women prisoners with sentences of from 5-10 years increased three-fold between 1971-1974.  Those with life sentences almost doubled and those sentenced to governor’s pleasure multiplied by four (Bacon 1976a: 60).

As at 1976, there were 100 women in jail in New South Wales; 45 at Cessnock, 15 women working at the Parramatta Linen Service, 4 women with babies in the hospital annexe, 6 in hospital, 3 at Mulawa to attend courses, 20 on remand at Mulawa and 3-8 at maximum-security at Mulawa (Bacon 1976b: 39).


Mulawa opens

Mulawa (‘place of shadows’) Training and Detention Centre opened as a women’s prison in 1970 at Silverwater.  Women were transferred there from the State Reformatory for Women at Long Bay (a 200 bed prison) due to an increase in numbers of male inmates (Inspector General: 11).  Mulawa offered, according to the DCS Annual Report of 1970, ‘tastefully appointed rooms’ and available occupancy was 93.  The accommodation consisted of dormitory and multi-occupancy rooms, with only a small number of single rooms.  The three main accommodation areas were Caroline Chisholm House (for first offenders and unsentenced prisoners – capacity of 52); Margaret Catchpole House (up to 31 recidivist inmates); and Mary Reiby House (10 single cells for inmates requiring separation for security reasons).  In its early stages, Mulawa housed between 70-100 inmates. 

In a study conducted just after opening of the facility, DCS indicated that an Education Officer was appointed to Mulawa in 1970-71; women were employed in the garment shop and punchcard operating, with payment of 75c per week to all employed prisoners; and recreational courses included skin care, lampshade making, and home management (with over half of the women participating in courses) (Dewdney 1974).


DCS study – ‘social atmosphere’ of the women’s prison

DCS conducted a study in 1974 in relation to the ‘social atmosphere’ of the women’s prison, which involved a review of current arrangements at Mulawa and consideration of the perceptions and attitudes of female prisoners towards staff and other inmates, of the appropriate physical design of infrastructure and a facility for women, and of development of appropriate daily routine (Dewdney 1975). The study found some difficulties within these then-current arrangements: for instance, the short-term nature of sentences meant that women could not attend educational or recreational classes; a ‘pre-occupation with health, together with considerable vagueness about the nature of their health problems and the nature of treatment provided’; and lack of awareness about relevant services (such as visiting services).

Overall, inmate responses to the survey could be divided into three groups - either very negative comments (usually those serving long sentences); some negative, some positive comments; or very positive comments (‘short-termers’). 


Parramatta Linen Service opens

The Parramatta Linen Service was a massive industrial laundry built on the site of the vegetable garden within Parramatta Gaol worked by prisoners to provide vegetables for the prisoner population since the nineteenth century.  Although originally designed for Parramatta prisoners, a mixture of ‘out-residents’ and prisoners brought in from Emu Plains worked in the Linen Service (Rinaldi 1977:162). 


Periodic detention – women

Alternative sentencing options such as periodic detention and probation were being developed in the 1970s, with much optimism about their potential to divert people from the prison system.  Periodic centres for males were first introduced at Long Bay (1970) followed by Parramatta (1973), Silverwater and Bathurst (1974) and Emu Plains and Tomago (1976). 

Periodic detention was not available for women until 1977.  A periodic detention centre (Merinda PDC) for women opened at in 1978 on the site of the old Female Factory at Parramatta (DCS Annual Report 77/78).  Poor attendance rates at Merinda, however, were attributed to issues relating to transportation and responsibilities for care of children (Harvey 1991).  The Women in Prison Taskforce noted in 1985 that the existence of only a single facility (Silverwater) deprived many women located in other areas of access to periodic detention (140).

Nagle Report into Prisons

Nagle was appointed as Commissioner to review the NSW prison system following two major riots at Bathurst Gaol in 1970 and 1974.  His final influential and lengthy report was published in 1978.  Chapter 27 of the Nagle Report is dedicated to female prisoners, and a number of relevant comments and recommendations are found throughout the report.

Nagle pointed out that as all women were housed at Mulawa, there had never been any real ‘classification’ of women prisoners.  However, it was stated that ‘there is no excuse for not attempting to classify women prisoners… a procedure which the Commission regards as vital.  Accommodation should be made available to coincide with (classification)’ (211).  Nagle also commented on the imprisonment of women with mental illness or convicted of offences such as drunkenness; providing women with work opportunities, work release and periodic detention programs (only 7% of women were engaged in any sort of industrial activity); the lack of routine ante-natal care and gynaecological services, of treatment for psychiatrically disturbed prisoners, and of routine medical care (as well as extensive overuse of tranquillizers); and the lack of privacy afforded to inmates in the accommodation facilities at Mulawa. 

Relevant recommendations included separation of women in accordance with their classification; introduction of individual cellular accommodation for inmates at Mulawa in lieu of dormitories; improvement of medical services at Mulawa; and the provision of ante-natal and gynaecological treatment to all women prisoners.  It was also suggested that the then-current practice of over-sedating women prisoners should cease; that the rigid policy of removing children from prison at 12 months ought to be reviewed; that mothers should be permitted to have longer visits from their infant children; that industries such as hairdressing and industrial sewing might be appropriate activities to be introduced for women; and that there ought to be better educational and work opportunities for women prisoners at Mulawa and Cessnock.  Further, legislation must be changed to allow women to be sentenced to periodic detention (as men were), and work release opportunities should also be available to women.

Baldry suggests that although there have been some improvements for women prisoners over time, not much has really changed in this context in the 25 years since Nagle made his recommendations; and, in particular, prison continues to be used to deal with women with serious social and/or mental health problems (Baldry 2004).

Women Behind Bars prepared a submission for the Nagle Report, considering then-current literature relating to female offenders and incarceration (Bacon et al 1976).  Recommendations related to ensuring that prisoners involved in same-sex relationships were not punished (there was some suggestion such prisoners had been forced to take tranquilizers).  They deplored the offer of training for women only in relation to low-pay, low-status work and involving ‘womanly skills’ (such as ‘haircare and social graces’) and/or training only provided through employment at the Parramatta Linen Service; failure to address the shifts in the female prison population (such as an increase of women incarcerated at governor’s pleasure) (see above under Statistics); an ‘appalling’ level of health care provided at Mulawa; problems associated with lack of services for the increasing numbers of migrant women (from Europe) in Mulawa; abolition of ‘punishment cells’ (solitary confinement); classification of prisoners; and a remandee’s right to participate in programs.


Guthrie House opens

Guthrie House, still in operation today, is a community-based service assisting women with post-release needs. Originally focusing upon housing needs for women, it now offers assistance with drug and alcohol dependency. It currently has capacity to accommodate up to ten women at a time with their pre-school aged children.

Mothers and Babies Unit at Mulawa

A Mothers and Babies Unit opened at Mulawa in a wing of the new hospital following Nagle’s recommendations.  A committee comprised of representatives from women’s groups and custodial staff was responsible for determining the appropriateness of a child residing with their imprisoned mother and exploration of Recommendation 193 of the Nagle Report: that the practice of forcing babies to be given up at 12 months be relaxed.  Up until this time, only women who had given birth in custody had been allowed to have their children with them and only until the child was 12 months of age.  They had been housed in the prison hospital. 

Up to nine mothers at any one time entered the Unit (called the Annex) in its first year, along with children aged 0-32 months.  In 1980, the Unit was moved to Blaxland House, a cottage within the prison but close to the Parramatta River after a period in the more isolated Wentworth House.  This was said to have occurred because a disturbance by prisoners at Mulawa caused concern (in terms of the children’s safety) to the Department (Hounslow 1982).

The program was suspended on Christmas Eve in 1981 by then-Minister Rex Jackson, who stated that ‘children should not live behind barbed wire’.  Objections cited included the fact that Blaxland House only accommodated six women and significant staff opposition (see further below). Hounslow suggests that there had always been ‘deeply-rooted hostility’ to the program from custodial staff.  A review of the unit was also conducted at this time by the prison psychologist; it was critical of the program.   A committee (see Hounslow report below) was then set up to look into the program (Hounslow 1982) (see also Maher 1988).


Regular medical service established for women prisoners

Regular visits by psychiatrists, general practitioners and representatives from the Women’s Health Centre were instigated at this time for female prisoners.

As the numbers of inmates involved in drugs was increasing by the late 1970s, some women were transferred to Cessnock Correctional Centre and later to Tomago Women’s Open Institution (which closed in 1981). 

Escalating numbers led to the establishment of Norma Parker Centre at Parramatta (see below) (DCS 1994: 21ff).  The Anne Conlon Wing was built at Mulawa in 1980 – the first addition to the structure that had existed in 1970 (a 60 single cell building). 



From 1976, when Justice Nagle took evidence, until the 1985 prison census there was a 161% increase in the incarceration of women of a rise from 81 to 208 women prisoners over a 7 year period (Brown et al 1988).

The Women in Prison Taskforce considered female imprisonment rates and noted, in particular, the large numbers of women on remand or imprisoned for drug-related offences. For instance, over 30% of women in prison were on remand compared with approximately 16% of male prisoners; and approximately 9% of women were in prison for drug use/possession charges compared with 2.4% of males. Women were also more likely to be given a short sentence; however the Taskforce noted that the difference between men and women in this regard was not as great as it might have been, given the extent to which women were less likely than males to have committed serious crime.  The overcrowding of Mulawa was noted (capacity was 109, but consistently the prison was ‘well in excess of this’). The ‘dramatic’ rise in rates of female imprisonment in recent years indicates that NSW is ‘way behind other States, and notably Victoria (5.4 per 100,000 compared with 10.1 in NSW), in both its sentencing policies and practices and in its use of alternatives to custody and diversion from custody’ (122). The use of prison to incarcerate those with psycho/medical or drug-related problems; following default on prior less serious sentences; and for default of payment of fines was noted by the Taskforce (123).

In 1976 there were 81 women incarcerated, but by 1983 this had risen to 182 - constituting ‘a more than 100% increase in eight years following the adoption of a correctional system aimed to be reductionist’.  Contributory factors may have been lengthier sentences for women; a higher proportion of women on remand; a greater likelihood that women will be imprisoned for a first offence; and a lesser chance for women to receive community service orders due to the lack of child-care facilities (Hampton 1993:6-7, citing WIPTF (see below (1985): 39).

Hampton also suggests that women in NSW jails received harsher treatment and had a ‘high likelihood of being in a maximum security facility’, regardless of the nature of the offence in question.  In 1984, the NSW rate of imprisonment for women was ‘more than double that of Victoria’ (9.4 per 100,000 of the population compared with 4.6 in Victoria).  By 1989, NSW held 289 women (13.2 per 100,000 of the population compared with 7.7 in Victoria).  The 1982 Australian Prison Census indicated that women were more likely to be held on remand in prison, including for periods longer than three months (74% held on remand for more than three months and 43% for a year or more); to receive longer sentences; and to be imprisoned for drug possession and/or use.  By way of comparison, in Victoria, 47% of women prisoners were on remand for less than one month.  In the 1983 census, 54% of all women in remand in Australia (37 out of 68) were held in NSW.  In 1990, 53% (80 out of 150) of all women in remand were held in NSW.  In 1989, close to 50% of all women convicted in NSW were serving two years to life (most were serving 2-5 years).  In Victoria and Western Australia, only 18% were serving two years to life; in Queensland the figure was 40%, Tasmania – 25% and South Australia – 9%.  (Hampton also statistically compares the situation for women compared to that of men: 4-5) (Hampton 1993). These figures though are based on static census figures not flow through numbers. The number of women who flow through the prison in a year is significantly higher than the census figures indicate and the majority of these women flowing through the prison are there for less than a year.

The Department itself reviewed changes in the female prison populations of 1972 and 1984.  It found that the 1984 sample of female prisoners were younger; had higher levels of schooling; were a little less likely to have children and had fewer children.  The mothers were more likely to be single parents and fewer of them had never worked.  The women of 1984 were also more likely to have committed a more serious offence and to be ineligible for diversionary initiatives (Miner 1987) (see below (1986)).


Norma Parker opens

This was the second facility in NSW for incarcerated women and was the first low security women’s prison in the State.  Prior to its opening, women classified as ‘C’ category (low security) went to Cessnock Correctional Centre, where they were accommodated in a wing adjacent to the male facilities.  When the male prison population expanded, this wing was closed to women and they were transferred to a small open facility at Tomago near Newcastle. 

Norma Parker consisted of three separate accommodation areas: Winmill Cottage, Morgan House, and a section located above the facility’s offices for women on Work Release.  This facility had previously been the Parramatta Girls’ Home, housing ‘delinquent’ young women.  Accommodation was in single or shared rooms and there were no multiple-occupancy rooms.  The Centre at least provided for some separation of women based on classification levels, although Mulawa continued to house women of differing classification levels in the one facility.  The focus was upon education, work and recreation programs.


Tomago Women’s Open Institution closes

In the 1970s, female inmates had been transferred from Cessnock to Tomago Women’s Open Institution, near Newcastle.  This facility was closed in 1981.  Inmates were then transferred to Norma Parker. 


Ombudsman’s report on assault of inmate Maria Jason at Mulawa

The Ombudsman considered an alleged assault upon inmate Maria Jason perpetrated by prison officers.  It was found that the assault had occurred, and that the Department had failed to adequately investigate the incident.  The Ombudsman recommended that certain officers be charged with assault and be suspended from duties and that officers at a corporate level be reprimanded and informed about responsibilities in terms of how such matters ought to be dealt with at a departmental level.  The Department was also advised to give ‘urgent consideration to the establishment of an independent inquiry to investigate conditions at Mulawa’.  The latter ‘conditions’ referred to serious factional fighting amongst staff members, which inmates had become embroiled in at various times (NSW Ombudsman 1982).

Hounslow report – children of imprisoned parents

This report was produced by a Committee headed by Hounslow, convened to consider a way forward for the mothers/children’s program, after its suspension in 1980 by the Corrective Services Minister.  The Committee’s report made a number of recommendations, including that courts ought to consider the needs of children of arrested persons in any bail decision-making; that full consultation take place with imprisoned parents in relation to substitute care decisions; that changes in remission be enacted to speed release; that prisoners be placed in institutions appropriate to their security rating; that changes be made to eligibility criteria for day leave to ensure that women are able to access it as early as possible during sentence; and that unlimited visits be permitted with dependent children (Hounslow 1982).


New women’s prison-announcement

By 1983,the State Government indicated an intention to build a new womens’ facility to address overcrowding at Mulawa. The new prison was to replace Mulawa and Norma Parker.  The push for a new prison was in large part motivated by concerns relating to conditions at Mulawa, which had been deteriorating since the Nagle commission.  Problems included lack of health care, work or drug programs, overcrowding, use of security cells as punishment, overuse of medically prescribed drugs to control inmates, a ‘string of suicides’ (7 in 10 years), a ‘maze of internal fences (razor wire)’, an internal pass system to which male prisoners were not at that time subjected, closure of the women/childrens’ wing, and an inquiry into prison officer assaults on a prisoner (Findlay & Hogg (1988): 286).

Women Behind Bars launched a campaign against Mulawa and the construction of a new facility (see also Brown 1983; Women Behind Bars 1983).  This campaign in part provided motivation for State Government to assemble the Women in Prison Task Force (see below) - a ‘clear acknowledgement of and victory for the opposition groups like Women Behind Bars and their allies’ (Findlay & Hogg: 96).

Transfer to Parramatta

On 22 December 1983 nine prisoners were transferred from Mulawa to 4 Wing, Parramatta Gaol. Six of these were on ‘protection’ and the remainder had been segregated pursuant to s 22 of the Prisons Act as a result of alleged assaults on prison officers. 

The Ombudsman investigated conditions at Parramatta following this transfer (see below 1985).


Women moved to Bathurst

X Wing at Bathurst (a male facility) was opened to women in order to address overcrowding at Mulawa and also in response to unrest at the latter facility to allow for problematic prisoners to be transferred out of Mulawa and into segregation/punishment and protection (Findlay & Hogg 1988: 294).  In some instances, prisoners were allegedly transferred involuntarily (WIPTF: 47). 

This section was closed following completion of Dawn de Loas Centre and a new Segregation Unit at Mulawa in 1989.  Bathurst inmates were then transferred to Mulawa or Norma Parker. 


Women in Prison Task Force (WIPTF) Report

Preliminary discussions about construction of a new women’s prison in NSW due to increasing incarceration rates for women led to the 1985 Women in Prison Task Force (WIPTF) resulting in the Women in Prison Report dealing with current conditions for female prisons within the NSW prison system.  Such a document was particularly important in the light of the paucity of attention given to women prisoners in the Nagle Report of 1978.

The WIPTF was set up to ‘inquire into the appropriateness and adequacy of present custodial facilities for women in NSW prisons and to review, examine and make recommendations on a wide range of issues relating to female prisoners’.  The Taskforce had broad representation, including correctional and community membership as well as a prison inmate (Findlay & Hogg 1988: 287).  Most importantly, the Task Force ultimately found that most women within prison were not violent offenders (and therefore did not pose a significant risk to the community) and that there were an abnormally high proportion of women on remand (Task Force Report 1985: 42).  A demographic profile of the women was laid out, including previous drug use and primary carer status, inter alia.  The Taskforce made 269 recommendations dealing with a range of broad issues such as bail, fine default, disciplinary procedures, classification, staff training and women with children, use of razor wire for fencing at Mulawa, with specific detail relating to migrant and Aboriginal women.  Recommendations included, for instance, development of pre-release programs for women; provision of detoxification facilities; ensuring that women were able to access legal assistance whilst on remand; recruitment of staff from diverse cultural backgrounds; improved access to preventative care medical services; and that separation of mothers and children ought to be avoided, inter alia.  The Taskforce also recommended that Government not build any further facilities for women, as ‘a major determining factor in the size of a particular prison population is the number of accommodation units available’ (47), and the Taskforce was advocating for reduced rates of female incarceration (including through alternative sentencing options).  Instead, Mulawa should be subject to ‘radical redevelopment’ (279).

After release of the report of the Women in Prison Task Force in 1985 (see below), a Multi-Purpose Unit and new residential accommodation were built (Dawn de Loas complex in 1989).  The Wyndana complex was built in 1990.  The latter was ‘progressive’ – encouraging inmates to cook, wash and clean for themselves within a communal layout, cell units were single occupancy.  Two further units developed after this time were the Mum Shirl Unit (1996) and the Hospital Annex (Clinic) (1994) (Inspector General 11ff).

It is suggested that many of these recommendations were not considered, let alone implemented, until the Department released its Women’s Action Plan in 1994 (Baldry 2004 and see Women’s Action Plan below).  Hampton suggests that the Minister (Akister) refused to set up a Women’s Council with independent members to implement reforms, as recommended by WIPTF (see Findlay & Hogg).  The Implementation Committee that was established was corrections –based, and its responses to Task Force recommendations ‘frequently seemed to include denial that problems existed or the assertion that things had always been that way and could not be changed’.  Two years after the issuing of the report, of the 270 recommendations referred to in a draft update at that time 67 had been referred to another committee; 38 had been supported without action; 30 had been supported by being referred on; 31 were ‘supported, however’; 65 were not supported; 14 were ‘still in limbo’; and 21 had been implemented (Hampton 1993: 9). However, the NSW Ombudsman indicates that it would have been difficult for the DCS to implement all relevant recommendations, given that they involved police practice, legal and sentencing practices, and the decriminalisation of marijuana and heroin.  The fact that implementation was left to the department, rather than to the independent Women’s Council as recommended by the report, also ‘immediately reduces the likelihood of effective implementation of the many achievable reforms mooted in the report’ (NSW Ombudsman 1997: 40). 

The WIPTF was dismantled when Yabsley became Minister (under the Greiner Government (elected in 1988)).  Indeed, the Yabsley approach was said to be characterised by ‘effectively destroying any hopes of reform (whilst) … pursuing his vision of a penal system which is more notable for its hysterical anti-prisoner tone than rational consideration of its consequences’ (Hampton 2003: 13).  However, the WIPTF was successful in that it ‘ensured that a heightened degree of focus on female incarceration issues would continue well into the future’ (Inspector General: 13).  Other specific successes noted at the time by the Convenor of the WIPTF Implementation Committee included appointment of a bail coordinator at Mulawa (leading to an increase in bail applications in the Supreme Court); appointment of a temporary Aboriginal welfare officer; upgrading of library services; and a review of classification and programs (Johnston (1987): 3) – ‘small gains but not without significance’ (Findlay & Hogg 1988: 297).  According to Johnston, there had been ‘no revolution in the women’s area but after a difficult start, achievement (had).. been mostly positive, although slow’ (Johnston 1988: 130)

Minority Report - WIPTF

The Women in Prison Taskforce (see above) recommended that a new prison for women not be constructed.  However, the Task Force split into two ‘factions’; the minority group recommending in a separate report also published in 1985 that a new prison be built on a different site to Mulawa. Those belonging to the minority group, according to Findlay & Hogg, were ‘uniformly employed by the Department of Corrective Services’ (Findlay & Hogg 1988: 288). They advocated for a ‘three-pronged solution to the problem of Women’s imprisonment’:

(O)ne, to design and build a prison accommodation specifically for women, two, to institute a progressive management system and three, to do this in the context of a firm commitment to a reduction in women’s rates of imprisonment (2).

The minority Report was not taken up but some of its recommendations seem to have been implemented much later by Corrective Services.

Ombudsman’s report – Parramatta transfer

Following transfer of women prisoners to Parramatta Gaol as a result of unrest at Mulawa in 1983 (see above), complaints were made to the Ombudsman of poor conditions at the new site (‘totally unfit for animals to live in’) and of the mixing of female prisoners on ‘protection’ with those female prisoners who had been ‘segregated’ as a result of allegedly instigating the Mulawa disturbance.   The 4 Wing at Parramatta where they were transferred had immediately prior to their arrival housed male inmates, and had been vacated for much-needed refurbishment at the time of the transfer.  The women alleged that not only were the cells uninhabitable, but that inadequate provision had been made for their needs for privacy and for basic and reasonable facilities as women prisoners. 

Whilst the Ombudsman considered the complaints, 4 Wing was upgraded.  However, it was considered necessary to look at the treatment of protection prisoners and the lack of facilities available to them.  These women alleged that they were subject to the same deprivations and regime to which women who had been segregated were subject.  The Ombudsman found that the protection prisoners had been removed under s 22 along with the segregated prisoners and that this was not appropriate; that the Commission had failed to ensure that reasonable facilities and amenities existed at Parramatta for the females moved from Mulawa; and that it was ‘potentially dangerous and unreasonable’ to require that both protection and segregated inmates share the same facilities.  Further, the Commission failed to address overcrowding and other issues that led to disturbance at Mulawa (NSW Ombudsman 1985).


Departmental research comparing conditions for women in 1972-1984

This review arose from research conducted by the Department for the WIPTF inquiry.  It consisted, in part, of discussion based on interviews with female inmates conducted in 1984, but also, where available, interviews from 1972.  It was suggested therein that conditions for women ought to have improved given the various inquiries that had been conducted (such as WIPT, Nagle), and that a comparison between conditions in 1984 and 1972 was therefore timely. 

Various policy recommendations were made by the Departmental researchers, including the need for better facilities to enable accommodation of prisoners based on classification and for single room accommodation in facilities in Sydney; the need to establish separate detoxification facilities; improving access to the Work Release Scheme for women to ensure equity with male prisoners; establishment of a Unit Management model; re-establishment of a Mothers and Babies Unit; and completion of an independent review of medical and dental services.

Review available at:


Mothers and children – legislative amendment

In 1986, a legislative amendment (s. 29(2)(c) of the Prisons Act 1952) allowed women to be granted an ‘approved absence’ to serve their sentence with their children in an appropriate environment.  Not many women were released under this provision, however, as the process involved was very bureaucratic (DCS 1994: 67) (for criticism see Maher 1988; for discussion see Standing Committee on Social Issues 1997).


Bail Coordinator – Mulawa

As a result of WIPTF recommendations, a Bail Coordinator was appointed to assist women at Mulawa.  The aim of this initiative was to reduce numbers of women on remand by ensuring that they have the opportunity to access bail.  The Coordinator provided information to court in bail review matters and as a result a ‘steady number (of women)’ were successful in their applications, giving rise to comment by Supreme Court judiciary as to why men did not have access to such a program (Johnston 1988: 128).


Martin Inquiry into Prisoner Classification

T.J. Martin QC was appointed to inquire into prisoner classification in NSW following a specific incident involving male prisoners.  His inquiry advocated for a different classification system for women, as the current model disadvantaged females.  It also noted that there was ‘a strong indication that the escape of a female prisoner would not be likely to be seen as constituting a physical threat to the public’, and that this should be taken into account in classification of women.  It was further suggested that when restrictions were placed on day leave as a result of male inmates’ problematic behaviour in prison, such restrictions also appeared to apply automatically to women (Hampton 2003: 29).

At this time, however, the department, did not accept that a separate classification system was necessary. Departmental gender-specific classification procedures for women were developed in 1997 (see below).

Hampton discusses classification in 1991 in this context.  Of the 352 women in NSW prisons at September 1991, 285 were imprisoned at Mulawa/Dawn de Laos (the latter run along maximum security lines due to its proximity to Mulawa) though only 15 of the sentenced prisoners had a maximum security rating; 95 were on remand (for minor offences, but still classified as maximum security risks); and 175 inmates were classified medium or minimum security but were held in maximum security (Hampton 2003: 30). 


Review: Mothers and young children in custody in NSW

The Department reviewed the then-current mother/children policy for incarcerated women – ‘prompted by concern regarding the apparent vacuum’ existing after closure of the Mothers and Young Children Unit at Mulawa in 1981 (see above).  Women were being released on licence under s. 29 of the Prisons Act, but the relevant provisions were, according to Maher, ‘under-utilised’. Despite the latter point, the review concluded that prison-based unit was not the best solution at this point in time, given overcrowding at Mulawa and ‘management difficulties’. Further, there was a call for refinement of judicial attitudes and sentencing practices in relation to women so as to prevent incarceration of mothers, wherever possible.  Specific recommendations in relation to s.29 included placing responsibility upon the Department for increasing available accommodation options for mothers released under this provision, inter alia (Maher 1988).


Dawn de Laos opened at Mulawa

Extensions at Mulawa included the development of Dawn de Laos and a new Segregation Unit.  This led to the closure of the Bathurst section for women, with inmates being transferred to both Mulawa and to Norma Parker. 



There had been a dramatic increase of 50% in numbers of women in NSW prisons during the latter part of the 1980s and early 1990s.  From July 1989 to July 1990, women in prison increased from 240 to 337, probably directly attributable to the harsh ‘truth in sentencing’ legislation introduced by the Greiner government.  This increase had a ‘devastating effect on the already stretched resources’ of women’s prisons.  There was severe overcrowding, with cells with capacity for one inmate being converted to take more and with longer lock-down hours due to understaffing (Women and Girls in Custody Group 1991).  (See also Hampton 2003: 13-15, wherein it is suggested that the Norma Parker Centre held a maximum of 40 women in 1985, but that in 1992-3 it held 75, with four women in some rooms).

The Women’s Action Plan released by the Department in 1994 also considered prison numbers (see further below).  In 1992, NSW had the second highest ratio of female prisoners per 100,000 population in Australia.

Women’s imprisonment rates

1991 17.4 6.4 6.1 13.0 9.2 7.5 24.8 0 11.0
1992 17.2 6.6 6.7 15.3 11.1 2.8 14.6 1.8 11.4

New South Wales also had comparatively fewer women serving time under community supervision, compared to other jurisdictions.

Females serving community based orders including post prison orders rates

1989 102.9 54.9 134.5 117.1 112.4 129.3 300.7 53.4 99.3
1991 76.3 - - - - - - - -

The increase in females imprisoned was not due to an increase in sentence lengths, but was more likely simply due to a rise in numbers of women being imprisoned.  Actual numbers translate into 303 women in full time custody at 28 November 1993 c.f. 6138 males in New South Wales. 

Of particular concern was the increasing rate of Aboriginal women being incarcerated (c.f. Aboriginal men): 6% of women in full time custody were Aboriginal in 1982 c.f. 13.1% in 1993.  For Aboriginal men, there was only an increase of 2.4% for the same period of time (7.0% in 1982 and 9.4% in 1993).  There had also been a notable increase in female incarceration for fraud during the1982-1993 period (8.3% in 1982 c.f. 16.6% in 1993), whilst drug offences had almost halved (33.3% in 1982 c.f. 16.9% in 1993).  Women were also serving shorter sentences than men (48% of women and 36% of men had aggregate sentences under 4 months; and 14% of women and 25% of men had aggregate terms of 1 year or more).

By the mid 1990s NSW had a significantly higher ratio of female prisoners per 100,000 population than any other state, except for the Northern Territory.  Further, the rate of Aboriginal to non-Aboriginal prisoners was higher for females than males (18.4% of full time female prisoners were Aboriginal c.f. 11.8% of male prisoners), and this percentage had more than doubled over the previous decade.  NESB women made up 10.7% of Mulawa inmates, a lower figure than the statewide prison population of 14.8%.  Women were on a par with men so far as the most serious offences of violence (homicides) were concerned but the percentage of women in prison for manslaughter was higher than that for men.  Approximately 30% of women and 50% of men (using static census data) were in prison for crimes of violence.  Women were more likely than men, however, to be incarcerated for property offences (fraud (women 10.8%; men 3.5%), break and enter (women 15.6%; men 13.4%); stealing (women 13.7%; men 10.5%)) and drug offences (women 16.2%; men 12.7%).  Women were also serving shorter sentences than men (women 3.5% under 3 months and men 1.5%; women 21.3% 3 months < 1 year and men 14.3%, for instance) (NSW Ombudsman 29ff).

The rate of female incarceration in NSW increased dramatically between July 1994 and June 1999, reflected in both the remand and sentenced population (Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population 2001). According to the Department of Corrective Services, the female prison population rose from a daily average of 291 to 412 between January 1995 and 16 January 2000, an increase of 41.6%. Such increases in female incarceration were apparently part of a national trend.

The NSW Judicial Commission also examined sentencing trends for female offenders in this jurisdiction.  The Commission found that since 1995 the proportion of female offenders to male offenders had increased from 15.7% in 1995 to 16.8% in 1998.  An increase in the seriousness of offences committed by women (such as armed robbery, driving licence offences and offences against good order and assault) led to an increase in the number of women sentenced in higher courts to full-time custody (Poletti).

The Women’s Action Plan II (2000) (see below) also considered statistics for women in the latter half of the 1990s.  As at June 1999, 15.5% of clients of Probation and Parole were female – indicating that women were able to access diversionary programs.  Only 9.5% of women in diversionary programs were Indigenous, however – although they constituted 23.2% of women in custody.  In June 1998, 23 women were on home detention orders (DCS 2000: 8).  The increase in female rates of incarceration is noted (particularly of Indigenous female incarceration).  This was speculatively attributed to rising sentence lengths for women in local courts, and to the fact that although convictions had dropped for women, the overall number of women given custodial sentences in higher courts had increased. 

Fitzgerald noted that there had been a substantial increase in the overall number of women convicted in the local court, but also in the number of women given custodial sentences (due to convictions being for offences against the person and against justice procedures, and to an ‘increased popularity of prison as a penalty’).  In higher courts, less women were convicted but more were sent to prison – perhaps due to the increased rate of convictions for robbery. 

The increase in female imprisonment is likely to be due to both harsher penalties handed down by the courts, and a shift in the types of offences being committed by women towards those more likely to receive prison penalties.  The growth in the number of women appearing in court for offences such as robbery may have been related to the general growth in heroin use among women (Fitzgerald: 62).


Disturbance at Lithgow

Fourteen women were transferred from Mulawa to a new segregation centre at Lithgow gaol.  The women prisoners were required to clean, whilst male inmates were able to work in the prison industry.  When the women were given food that was allegedly inedible, they finally initiated a protest at conditions.  The riot squad was called in, with apparently ‘unwarranted force’ being used against the women.  They were then transferred back to Mulawa, where a further altercation occurred leading to physical injury, and the women were placed in segregation (Women and Girls in Custody Group 1991).

Wilton Report to Minister for Health and Community Services & Multi-Purpose Unit at Mulawa

The NSW Prison Medical Service Review Committee submitted the Wilton Report to the Minister, setting out 72 recommendations relating to correctional health issues, including specific recommendations in relation to Mulawa and self-harm.  This resulted in the closure of the Rose Scott Unit and the development of a Multi-Purpose Unit at Mulawa.  A safe cell policy was developed and physical modifications subsequently made; trained health care staff members were to be always present when disturbed or suicidal prisoners were identified; access to psychiatrists was increased; and therapeutic services for corrections health staff were prioritised. 

Ministerial Policy Statement issued on female inmates

A request by a subcommittee of the New South Wales Prisons Coalition led to Minister Griffiths issuing a ministerial policy statement on female inmates in November 1991.  At this stage, there was still no departmental policy on women.  The Ministerial Statement indicated that alternatives to full-time imprisonment were needed and emphasised the need for mother and child to maintain a relationship (and in this context, women could be considered for transfer to halfway houses).  It also stressed that educational programs ought to focus on social/life skills (drug and alcohol issues), basic numeracy and literacy, and should be developed with the view that women will almost certainly find it difficult to locate full-time employment upon release (Hampton 2003: 18-19). 

Hampton has suggested that though the Minister’s ‘heart appeared to be in the right place’, there were flaws inherent in the policy including, for example, a lack of half way houses to accommodate women as an alternative to prison (Hampton 2003: 19). 

Waller report into suicide and other self harm in correctional centres finalized

A committee, led by Waller A.M. was established to inquire into suicide and other self-harm in correctional centres and subsequently presented a final report on this issue in 1991.  The report indicated that although incidents of self-harm by mutilation were ‘quite common in the correctional system’, the highest rates occurred at Long Bay Reception Centre, Long Bay Hospital and, significantly, Mulawa.  Recommendations included the need to continue to evaluate the complex factors underpinning incidents of self-harm (Waller 1993: 16).  (See also Pritchard 1988: 91 - indicating that approximately 25% of suicides in New South Wales prisons involved women over a 8-year period immediately preceding her publication).


Review – periodic detention

A Judicial Commission review of the periodic detention scheme found that childrearing responsibilities were impacting upon women’s ability to comply with periodic detention requirements.  Approximately 72% of women completing periodic detention had primary care-giving responsibilities to children; and as the highest failure rate of women was for those aged 21-30, those most likely to have children, the authors concluded that failure was due to their responsibilities.  It was recommended that child care facilities be provided; and/or that women not be required to travel long distances.  The limited work opportunities offered to women on periodic detention (stereotypical domestic roles) were also noted (Potas et al 1992; see also Brand 1993). In 1995 there were only 66 periodic detention beds available to women, but by 2000 there were 168 places – with periodic detention centres for women at that time at Tomago, Wollongong and Mannus (DCS 2000: 3)


Biyani Cottage opens at Malabar

Biyani Cottage, opened in 1994 and located at Malabar (later moved to Parramatta), still provides a diversionary alternative to custody for women with a dual diagnosis of mental health disorders or mild intellectual disabilities and alcohol/drug issues.  It aims to ‘stabilise mental health and alcohol or drug issues and to help women to access long-term community rehabilitation programs and resources’.  Its target group is women who have been remanded in custody pending sentence or who have been returned to custody following breach of parole. It can accommodate six women for up to 3or 4 months. 

Biyani staff, as part of Community Offender Services, provide supervision and guidance to the women while they reside at Biyani and the Probation and Parole Service may provide further input when women move to residential rehabilitation and/or into community based rehabilitation programs.  The program provides accommodation and support to stabilise mental health and drug and alcohol issues and to help women gain access to long-term residential rehabilitation programs or community rehabilitation resources. Biyani staff follow the residents' progress for a period of time after discharge.

In 2005/06, 22 women were admitted to the program and 11 of these were ATSI women; 14 completed the program.  An interim evaluation of the program discussed the difficulty of working with the program’s client group – ‘characterised as extremely treatment resistant and relapse prone due to the complexity of their needs’.  The lack of services in the community to which women could be referred was noted as a crucial problem(DCS Annual Report 05/06: 24).

Minister for Health releases Strategic Plan for the Corrections Health Service 1993-1998

The Corrections Health Board had developed this strategic plan over two years and specifically noted the health problems for women at Mulawa.  The Plan set out strategies designed to meet the needs of female prisoners, with two overarching objectives of improving the health of women in prison and of improving women’s access to preventive health care in prison and on return to the community.  Strategies included increasing access to relevant practitioners, including through the Aboriginal medical service; upgrading clinic facilities; establishing a 24 hour nursing observation unit for acutely disturbed inmates and a voluntary screening program for STDs; and ensuring effective liaison between local hospitals and community health services.  Further to this, a Medical Director, Women’s Health Services and a women’s health advisory committee (to advise in relation to the CHS Strategic Plan) were established in 1995. 

Department of Corrective Services - Women’s Action Plan

The Department of Corrective Services’ Planning Unit developed this first three-year Action Plan for women, acknowledging that recommendations in the WIPTF 1985 report had not been realized but that now the ‘time appears right for significant reform’.  Indeed, the Plan introduced a number of initiatives in response to recommendations of the WIPTF under the leadership of Commissioner Major General Neville Smethurst. 

The Action Plan covered a broad spectrum of issues, including capital works; regional needs; community supervision; and inmate committees for female prisoners.   Specifically, it was suggested that a Women’s Services Unit (to advocate and coordinate policy matters relating to women), a Women’s Advisory Network (to provide advice through the Women’s Services Unit to the Commissioner) and inmate committees be established; that a 50-bed minimum security farm close to Sydney and transitional centres be developed; and that facilities for women accommodated at Grafton and Broken Hill (accommodating only minimal numbers) ought to be improved.  It was also thought necessary to re-visit formal policy as it related to mothers and children and to re-consider the current classification system in terms of its appropriateness for female offenders. 

It has been noted that inadequate attention was given to women of CALD backgrounds or to Aboriginal women in the Plan, although the DCS apparently indicated that this was due to the fact that issues relevant to such prisoners were considered to be too significant to warrant inclusion in a general plan (NSW Ombudsman 1997: 29).

The Action Plan ultimately gave rise to the following (and see further below):

  • the redevelopment and re-commissioning of the former Emu Plains prison farm as a  minimum security (138 bed) correctional centre for women (1995);
  • the development of the Parramatta Transitional Centre for 21 women to ensure that women could be with their children (1996);
  • the provision of 19 beds within the June Baker Unit at Grafton and 8 beds at Broken Hill;
  • the establishment of the Women’s Services Unit (WSU) in 1996
  • introduction of the female specific classification scheme
  • development of the Mothers and Children’s Program (see below).


Emu Plains opens

A minimum-security facility for sentenced female prisoners was officially opened in 1995 at Emu Plains, as recommended in the 1994 DCS Women’s Action Plan.  It consisted of a re-design of a former prison farm for men.  Eight cottages (Jacaranda Cottages) designed for self-sufficient living and with room for mothers and children living units commenced operation in 1996, providing accommodation for 40 women and 16 children (see below).  General accommodation was provided for 70 inmates. 

As at 2002, inmates had access to work release programs at Emu Plains (which was not available at Mulawa at that time); and the Jacaranda Cottages enabled women to reside with their children on a full time or occasional basis as part of the Mothers and Children’s Program (1996 (see below). The Select Committee into Increasing Prisoner Populations in 2000-2001 praised the establishment of the Jacaranda Cottages for mothers and children at Emu Plains, but noted that incarceration of mothers should always only be as a last resort and that some courts had incarcerated women because of the availability of this Unit – contrary to recommendations set out in the Children of Imprisoned Parents report of 1997 (see further information on Mothers and Children policy below).

Women’s Services Unit established

The Women’s Services Unit (WSU) was set up in 1995 as a result of the Women’s Action Plan (1994) to represent the issues and needs of women at a senior management level within the Department and to thus influence development of policy, program and service strategies (including capital works decision-making as it related to women). This Unit was later disbanded.  Commissioner Woodham appointed a Commander for Women in 2004 and the Unit subsequently unraveled.  What remains (in 2011) is a Co-ordinator of the Mother’s and Children Program and a Principal Advisor for Women position (with statewide responsibility).

Indigenous Action Plan - DCS

The DCS 1995 Action Plan for the Management of Indigenous Offenders 1996-1998 incorporated Indigenous women’s needs, but only by way of acknowledging that the Department must meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women through ensuring availability of culturally appropriate and gender-specific programs and services and by providing programs/services for women through consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities. 


Women’s Advisory Network established

This Network was established to advise on women’s issues, and was reformulated in 1998 (with revised terms of reference and Code of Conduct). The Committee wasestablished by DCS to provide input from community organisations and individuals with expertise and interest in women in the justice and correctional systems in NSW.  Membership included the Commissioner, Head Women’s Policy Unit, representative from the Department for Women, an ex-inmate and other community members.

The WAN was renamed Women’s Advisory Council in 2008, and consisting of women representing law, health, Aboriginal services, inter alia. The DCS Principal Advisor for Women acts as Executive Officer for the Council (see below).

Minister announces opening of new women’s unit at Grafton to accommodate women of various classifications

As a response to the Action Plan of 1994, the periodic detention centre attached to Grafton (a male facility) was refurbished to accommodate 19 women. It was designed to provide full time custody options for women in regional areas (on remand and sentenced) to enable them to maintain links with community and family.  The June Baker Centre is in operation today. 

Parramatta Transitional Centre opens for women

This facility was set up as a result of the 1994 Womens Action Plan as a pre-release half-way house for female inmates.  It is still in operation. It was established to provide a minimum security, community-based facility to prepare women for release from custody to community living.  It was at the time referred to a ‘the cutting edge of corrections and the community’ (Lynch 2000: 2), and was the first community-based transitional centre in NSW (see also Carlen 2002).

Priority has been given to women serving the last 12 months of their sentence, or women who had served a quarter of their sentence at a correctional centre and who did not commit a serious violence offence or ongoing addiction problems.  It is staffed by female Transitional Centre Workers (rather than custodial staff), and the Workers’ role combines welfare, custodial and referral elements.  The Centre Manager works with a Management Committee with representatives of the community amongst its membership.  It has a capacity of 21, with five places available for women with pre-school age children.  The latter are accommodated under a ‘Local Leave Permit’ provided by the Commissioner pursuant to s 26(2)(j) of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999.  It was originally not designated as a correctional centre, and was in fact independent of any correctional centre. It was evaluated in 2001 (see below).

Mulawa report released by NSW Ombudsman

The NSW Ombudsman investigated conditions at Mulawa Correctional Centre during the 1993-94 period as a result of a media report setting out serious allegations made by Mulawa inmates.  The report in the Sydney Morning Herald on 27 July 1994 stated that DCS figures revealed a 100% increase in self-mutilation at the facility over the past year.  Between January and June 1994, 85 individuals had self-harmed at Mulawa in 112 separate incidents compared with 19 at Long Bay hospital; 2 at Parklea; 17 at Junee; and 23 at Long Bay prison.  The Department released a report denying these claims.  In September 1994, questions in Parliament and public action by the Justice Action group led to increased interest and ultimately the Ombudsman’s inquiry. 

During the Ombudsman’s investigation, Mulawa and Norma Parker were the only two facilities for women in NSW, compared with 27 male facilities then in operation.  However at the time of writing the report Norma Parker had been marked for closure, Emu Plains had opened, and two other small facilities were available for female inmates – Grafton and Broken Hill Correctional Centres (minimal numbers at Grafton), along with the Transitional Centre at Parramatta.  The metropolitan focus of these facilities is noted, with particular reference to the difficulties this posed for Aboriginal women.

The allegations in question related to a substantial increase in rates of self harm by inmates; substandard medical, psychological and other care for inmates; irregularities surrounding a death in custody (although this became the subject of an inquiry by police and the coroner and was therefore excluded from the Ombudsman’s inquiries) and an attempted suicide; and a ‘sex for favours’ network existing between officers and inmates. 

The Ombudsman’s final report set out serious concerns relating to the conditions at Mulawa as they existed in 1994, but indicated that there had been substantial changes to the facility and to the status of women prisoners within NSW DCS since that time.  It contained forty recommendations.  Issues were raised in relation to the inadequacy of the investigation procedures which had been used to deal with the ‘sex for favours’ allegations by DCS and it was recommended that staff receive relevant training in this area and that an Inspector General be appointed to improve such procedures.  In examining the rising rates of self-harm, various recommendations were made to improve responses to such incidents.  The Ombudsman recommendations were further directed towards improving conditions at Mulawa, as these had contributed to rates of self-harm.  Recommendations dealt with a number of matters, including ensuring that inmates were not punished through being denied contact with family; and the need for greater attention to the needs of NESB prisoners, for a gender-specific classification system, for case management of women, and for a thorough review of the then-current disciplinary regime used against women (which was seen as comparatively harsher than that applied to male prisoners).  Further, changes were required to improve health care provided to inmates and to address drug issues inside the centre, including through introduction of a detoxification facility. 

Mother and Children’s Program policy

Following the Womens Action Plan (1994), the Department developed the Mothers and Children Program Policy.  Jacaranda Cottages opened at Emu Plains for mothers and children as part of this policy (see above). The policy of 1996 contained guiding principles such as ‘the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration’; ‘participation in the fulltime residence program is an option of last resort, to be utilized when there are no satisfactory alternatives for the placement of the child’; and ‘participation in the …program must never be used as part of the hierarchy of privileges and sanctions’.  The objectives of the program include ensuring that the program is fair and equitable in application and that conditions under which children are accommodated meet community standards with respect to child-rearing. 

Although a program had been in place at Mulawa from 1979 until 1981 permitting pre-school aged children to reside with their mothers, from 1981 until 1996 no women had been able to have children with them in prison (see above (1981)).  A 1982 report by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (see above), the WIPTF, and other groups all had advocated during this period for a return of the Mothers and Children Unit (see Maher 1988).

Amendments were made in 1999 to s 26(2)(l) of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences Act 1999), but nothing really changed thereafter in terms of departmental interpretation of the law and the Mothers and Children Program Policyof 1996 remained in place.  Section 26(2)(1) provided that a female prisoner who is a mother of a young child or children may serve her sentence in a manner which enables her to be with her child/children ‘in an appropriate environment determined by the Commissioner’.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

As at 2000, the Program had four components:-

  • approved absence pursuant to section 26(2)(l) of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act, 1999;
  • caring for child or children full time while in custody (the Full Time Residence Program) to the age of 5 years;
  • occasional accommodation for children such as on weekends and school holidays (the Occasional Residence Program); and
  • all day visits at any correctional centre, where a child can spend all day with their mother (perhaps for a particular period of time (during breastfeeding, for example). 

A Mothers and Children’s Program Committee was set up to administer the program (to deal with applications to participate in the program; and to ensure that the best interests of a child are taken into account).  The Committee consisted of representatives from the Department, Department of Community Services and an independent child’s advocate (DCS 2000: 21).  The Mothers and Children’s Program patron also attends the meetings.

The program underwent a review after its first two years of operation and this review was used in formulating the Women’s Action Plan II in 2000.  The review indicated that between July 1998 and October 1999, 11 women were caring for their children at home under s 26(2)(1) and that 17 small children were placed with their mothers at Jacaranda Cottages or Parramatta. It also indicated that the program was working well (DCS 2000: 22).  The NSW Law Reform Commission criticised the program in 2000 as being limited as follows:

  • school-aged children cannot stay with their mothers, although there is an Occasional Residence Program whereby children can occasionally be accommodated, usually on weekends and school holidays;
  • if the woman is serving a long sentence, her child or children may have to be separated from her at some stage;
  • most women serving short sentences (say, three months) are accommodated at Mulawa, which does not have a Mothers’ and Children’s Program;
  • the program at Parramatta is limited to five mothers (NSW LRC 2000).

As at 2003, the Program was available to women at Emu Plains (Jacaranda Cottages) and Parramatta Transitional Centre (NSW Government 2003: 147).


Corrections Health publishes first Inmate Health Survey

Corrections Health, the NSW Department of Health and Department of Corrective Services collaborated on this survey of inmates, as recommended in the Wilton Report of 1991 (see above).  ‘Health’ was defined to include infectious diseases, life-style (smoking, drug use), and mental, physical and dental health, and 789 male and female inmates were interviewed (40% of all female inmates). 

Major findings of the survey indicated the poor health of women inmates in all areas, including in comparison to the health of male prisoners.  For instance, two thirds of women tested positive to hepatitis C antibody (c.f. one third of male inmates); 48% of females reported that an adult or older person had involved them in sexual activity before the age of 16 years; and 15.9% of females reported that they had been diagnosed with depression (c.f. 6.7% of male inmates).  A further survey was conducted in 2001 (see below). 

Survey available at:


Gender specific classification of female inmates introduced

As a result of the Women’s Action Plan (1994), a female-specific classification scheme was introduced in 1997.  The scheme was based on the concept of ‘high need-low risk’ and provided for classification based on four different categories (Category 4 – 1).  In 1999, 57.1% of women were classified as Category 1 (requiring the least containment and management); 5.2% were classified at Category 3 (in 1998); and 1.1% as Category 4 (DCS 2000: 6). Classification was now to be based on a number of factors or principles; including that women will not usually have to be confined by a physical barrier at all times, but will require some level of supervision ‘unless identified and well documented factors require’ otherwise; priority is to be given to children of women serving a full-time custodial sentence; and the classification and placement of women ‘is determined as part of a comprehensive and detailed case plan designed to address their individual and identified needs’ (DCS 2000: 11). 

Children of Imprisoned Parents Report: Standing Committee

The Standing Committee on Social Issues released a report in 1997containing 97 recommendations relating to the children of imprisoned parents, unanimously supported by this all-party committee. The inquiry conducted was concerned with examining the effect of imprisonment of a parent ‘from the perspective of a child’.  Recommendations were wide-ranging and related to ensuring contact between incarcerated parents and children (through increased availability of telephones, for instance); use of court attendance notices where an accused is a primary carer of children; ensuring that prisoners are able to access accommodation post-release; training for judiciary on non-custodial sentencing options; adequate health services for pregnant inmates; Mothers and Children’s Program extended to Mulawa.

Mum Shirl Unit opened at Mulawa

This unit, replacing the Rose Scott Unit, was to provide specialized assistance to inmates with identified mental health and behavioural issues.  It has recently been refurbished and still services offenders at Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre (formerly Mulawa).


Corrective Services Women in Custody Survey (N/A)

This survey was utilised in 2000 in developing the Women’s Action Plan II by the Department of Corrective Services (see below), and was conducted by the Women’s Services Unit (no-longer in existence).


No New Women’s Prison Campaign

The campaign commenced after Government proposed development of a new women’s prison at South Windsor and was constituted by action from community organisations, church groups, and academics.  It led to an upper house senate inquiry into the increasing prisoner population (see below – Select Committee on Increasing Prisoner Populations).



Two decades ago there were 130 women in prison; ten years ago that number had increased to 285.  In 2000, the number was about 480, with a quarter of these being on remand.  This total represents an increase of more than 260% over the two decades and 40% in the eighteen months prior to 2000.  The figures for Aboriginal women showed an even greater growth.  In 1982 there were four Aboriginal women in full time custody, representing 3.9% of full time women inmates; in 1989 the number had risen to 32 (12.1%); in 1996, the number was 66 (19.5%); by June 2000 it was 109 (23%).  Women represented 6.9% of the total state prison population (Baldry & Vinson 2000: 2).

From 1995 to 2002, there was a 60% increase in the rate per 100,000 of women in prison in NSW (Gelb 2004:2).

Further, the remand rate had grown from 13.8% in 1994 to 27.6% in 2002; and the recidivism rate of female prisoners had also increased over this time (from 55.1% in 1995 to 68.5% in 2001).  The rate of female prisoners serving a sentence for violent offending also increased at this time – 28% in 1995 to 33% in 2001.  In 1997, Aboriginal women constituted 17% of female prisoners but this had jumped to 25.2% in 2001 (Inspector General: 31ff). 

In 2004, there were about 600 women in full time custody and about 175 women were on remand – about 30% of the female prison population (compared with 17% in 1984) representing a 205% increase in the female remand population since 1996.  In 1999, only 29% of these remandees were ultimately given a custodial sentence, and 71% were discharged without a custodial sentence – ‘begging the question of why they needed to be in prison on remand in the first place’.  Further, around 175 Aboriginal women were in prison, which equated to 30% of the female prison population compared to 7% in 1984. (Baldry 2004: 103).

In its 2004 submission to the Anti-Discrimination Board, the Beyond Bars Alliance considered the circumstances of Indigenous women.  The latter were 18 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous women in the same age category and constituted 2% of the female prisoner population in NSW (in 2001).  Women, overall, were placed on remand at disproportionate rates (30% of women c.f. 18% of men) – surprising given that women are charged with less serious or violent offences compared to male offenders. At this time, women made up approximately 7.1% of the NSW prison population.  This had been a 13% increase since 2001, and an 88% increase since 1998 of women in NSW prisons.  Meanwhile, less women were being placed in community-based corrections (Armstrong et al 2005).

In a paper prepared for the Anti-Discrimination Board (NSW), Ryan considers whether NSW bail legislation indirectly discriminates against women (particularly Indigenous women).  Conditions for granting bail (such as bail sureties or a requirement for suitable accommodation) were less likely to be met by women and would thus contribute to the rising rate of females remanded rather than bailed.  From 1996-2001, this rate increased from approximately 60 to 160 unsentenced females in custody, with a higher proportion of women remanded in custody ultimately released without a custodial sentence compared with men remanded in custody (see table, Ryan 2002: 4). Whilst it is noted that the ‘granting of bail comes down to money and social connection, (being) in essence, about poverty, class and race’, gender is also a relevant consideration in this context.

The Select Committee on Increasing Prison Populations also considered the rise in female incarceration – 67.6% between 1995-2001 compared with 18.6% of males.


Select Committee on Increasing Prison Populations – Women (Interim Report)

In 1999, the Legislative Council appointed the Select Committee to inquire into the 40% and 20% increase in female and male incarceration, respectively.  The issues for women, in particular, included consideration of the effectiveness of imprisonment for women (based on recidivism and cost effectiveness measures); whether a new prison ought to be built to accommodate rising numbers; current and possible alternatives to incarceration; causes of rising rates; and post-release policies.  The inquiry was prompted by public outcry in relation to the proposed construction of a new women’s facility – Dilwynia (see below).

The Committee’s Interim Report canvassed a broad cross section of issues such as characteristics of female offenders; previous literature on the issue; factors contributing to the increase; ineffectiveness of incarceration; the success of the Parramatta Transitional Centre; services provided in relation to drug and alcohol issues; community-based alternatives; and issues around post-release, inter alia.  It sets out a range of diverse and detailed recommendations, including a need to improve focus upon community corrections (and to research the feasibility of building a new prison but also of establishing or developing community-based corrections options); to increase the number of forensic beds available outside the prison system; and to ensure that Aboriginal women are accessing the Mothers’ and Children’s program an a level that is proportionate to the participation level of non-Aboriginal women, inter alia.  Broadly, it suggested that resources ought to be invested in decreasing the female prison population, rather than building further facilities.

Government response to the Interim Report was mixed. For instance, it was suggested that Aboriginal women were able to access the Mothers and Children’s program but that they may chose to have their children remain with extended family rather than reside in prison and refused to undertake a cost-benefit analysis in relation to building of a new women’s facility.  Government also refused to impose a moratorium upon the number of places for female prisoners.

Interim report available at:


Media at:


Women’s Action Plan 2 (2000-2003)

In 2000, the NSW Department of Corrective Services released the Women’s Action Plan II.  The Action Plan II emphasised ‘needs-based programming for all women under its care’ - focusing on a continuity and consistency of programs and services for women from first contact with the system through to post-release stages of contact (DCS Annual Report 2000/2001).  This represented a shift away from the focus of the earlier Action Plan upon equity of access to services and programs (Inspector General: 13). 

The 2003 Action Plan was based on a review by the Women’s Services Unit of programs/services for women; consultation with inmates (including by way of a survey of inmates conducted in 1998 (see above)); a project conducted by NSW Health and the WSU examining Aboriginal women’s access to health services whilst in custody; and a study by the WSU and the Indigenous Issues Unit into the needs of Aboriginal women in custody (used in completion of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families (1997)).

The Plan sets out a number of key principles, including the need to recognise the specific needs of Indigenous women in prison.  Future strategies included:

  • consideration of the expansion of the Mothers and Children’s Program to women on remand and for women with alcohol and other drug and/or mental health issues;
  • consideration of the expansion of the Transitional Centre program to develop a facility for women who need assistance with alcohol or drug issues;
  • consideration of development of a correctional centre for sentenced women at South Windsor; and
  • advocating for a holistic approach to women’s health care by ensuring integrated health planning across services at Mulawa and Emu Plains.

Probation and Parole – Women’s Positive Program

This program was available from September 2000 in all probation and parole district offices and was developed by a Probation/Parole working party.  It aimed to support women to make positive lifestyle choices and to identify inappropriate behaviour patterns underpinning offending (DCS 2000: 3)

NSW Law Reform Commission – Sentencing Aboriginal women

This Law Reform Commission report relating to Aboriginal sentencing considered the particular circumstances of Indigenous women (including the fact that they were commonly sole parents; suffered dual discrimination on the basis of race and gender; were incarcerated within a particular historical context of Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal relations; and that they were taking responsibility for offending committed by their male partners, inter alia).  Recommendations included that relevant support needs to be given to Aboriginal women participating in the Mothers and Children program as Aboriginal women may not commonly raise their children on their own but within an extended family; and that further facilities and services need to be provided to Aboriginal women located outside metropolitan centres, including transitional centres.

Available at:



Berrima is transformed into women’s centre

Due to increases in female prisoner numbers and the strain that this was placing upon Mulawa, the former male prison at Berrima was transformed into a medium security women’s correctional centre through an upgrade of the 60-bed facility.  This development has been viewed as ‘one of the Department’s significant successes’ (Inspector General: 16), apparently having a focus upon work release, education and volunteering.  As at 2003, it had a 10% Aboriginal population, and ‘enables identified women to be placed closer to their families and support systems’ (NSW Government 2003: 145).

Corrections Health Service Inmate Health Survey

This survey followed an earlier survey conducted in 1997 but dealt with intellectual disability and other health issues not considered in 1997, and its findings were broadly similar to that earlier survey - that women inmates’ health was in many areas poorer than that of male inmates.  For instance, 95% of women and 78% of men had at least one chronic condition; more women than men (proportionally) tested positive for both hepatitis B and C antibodies and used illicit drugs or smoked; and 60% of women had been sexually abused before the age of 16 years (c.f. 37% of men) (Butler 2001).
Survey available at:


Evaluation of the Parramatta Transitional Centre

The evaluation of the Transitional Centre by the Department was completed, in part, to inform development of a second transitional centre by DCS. 

The evaluation was positive; indicating that the Centre had been cost effective, and had also had low rates of recidivism.  Since opening in 1996, only one former resident had returned to custody within a 2-year time frame post-release.  The report notes that criteria for admission had been relaxed most recently (for instance, women on methadone programs had been admitted), with success.  The case management approach of the Centre was also highly praised.  Recommendations included further risk-taking with respect to admission of inmates (beyond the strict selection criteria) and consideration of resourcing of the Centre as a post-release support facility (through, for instance, providing telephone advice to former residents).  A number of recommendations related specifically to future projects, and included setting up a similar facility for men and establishing any new facility in a community rather than a correctional location.

Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Regulation 2001

This legislation provided for a system of classification specific to female inmates (reg. 23).  See now Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Regulation 2008 (reg. 23).

Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population - Final Report

The Select Committee in this Final Report 2001 completed the work that it had commenced in the Interim Report released in 2000 (see above). The Report ultimately makes a number of recommendations, including that a pilot project be established (which should be available to women, in particular) to divert from custody those who would otherwise serve a term of three months or less (Recommendation 17) and that further research in relation to women in corrections should be undertaken (Recommendation 28).  It also suggested that transitional centres similar to the one at Parramatta be established elsewhere (although not necessarily for women only).  It also specifically recommended a moratorium on the building of a new women’s prison until a serious exploration of ways to reduce female incarceration had been completed (Baldry 2004).  Despite this recommendation, the Dillwynia Correctional Complex was opened in 2004 as the first purpose built facility for women (see below).

Available at:



Inspector General of NSW Corrective Services Inspection of Mulawa

The Inspector General prepared a report relating to Mulawa, but noted that it had only been five years since the Ombudsman’s examination of this facility.  The Inspector General’s report was motivated by an increase of the female prisoner population to a ‘record high’ and the increase in female prisoners specifically with mental health or similar issues.

Issues considered including inadequate staffing (leading to lock downs and despite the recognition that women prisoners are ‘high need’ inmates) and infrastructure within Mulawa, lack of coordination between services and programs and other matters.  The fact that Mulawa was required to fulfill multiple purposes (remand and reception; managing maximum security and high risk inmates; managing women who are mentally ill or at risk of suicide and self harm) was seen to create difficulties. 

Recommendations included introduction of a female-specific staffing system (to accommodate or reflect women prisoners’ needs); improve procedure around visits; development of a Violence Prevention Program for inmates to combat high rates of inmate ‘fighting’; and that a 24 hour Risk Assessment and Intervention Team was required to assist with self-harm incidents.

Bolwara House opens at Emu Plains

Bolwara House was established with Drug Summit funding to focus in transitional support for women with major drug issues. It operates as a transitional centre, the second such centre to be developed after Parramatta Transitional Centre.  It provides a non-custodial, community-based pre-release program for up to 16 women and is designed to address substance abuse problems.  It is for women with a ‘history of drug and alcohol problems, Aboriginal women and recidivists’, offering pre-release program activities and has been compared to the Ngara Nura pre-release program for men at the AOD Therapeutic Unit at Long Bay  (Inspector General: 16). 

As at 2003, it had a 50% occupancy rate, with Aboriginal women constituting 20% of participants.  None of the Aboriginal participants had returned to custody following program completion.

NSW Legislative Council Report on Mental Health

The Select Committee on Mental Health was established in December 2001 to inquire into mental health service provision in New South Wales. The Committee’s final report recommended that the Minister for Health fund a secure forensic mental health facility for women (Recommendation 115); that funding be provided to improve the facilities at Mulawa Correctional Centre for the treatment of women with a mental illness or disorder (Recommendation 116); and that future maximum and medium security forensic hospitals built to house NSW prisoners incorporate segregated accommodation which is suitable for both male and female prisoners (Recommendation 117).  It was noted that ‘large mental institutions of the pre 1980s have been replaced with gaols’ (259).  Referring to findings of the 1997 inmate health survey produced by Corrections Health (see above), the report indicated that of 132 females at Mulawa, 36% had been previously admitted to a psychiatric unit or hospital, and that there had been a misconception that Mulawa had psychiatric facilities when they had none. 

Report available at http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/mentalhealth


Study into needs of Aboriginal women in custody – Speak Out, Speak Strong

The NSW Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council initiated this study in light of the disproportionate representation of Indigenous women in prison.  In 2003 Indigenous women constituted 31% of women prisoners in NSW.  The study, relying upon information provided by Indigenous women prisoners themselves, was directed towards identifying ‘causes for imprisonment of Aboriginal women, the experiences of Aboriginal women in the criminal justice system and to identify their needs once incarcerated’ (Lawrie 2003).  Factors contributing to incarceration and of relevance to any policy attempt to address the needs of Indigenous female prisoners included high rates of prior sexual and physical abuse of these women; high levels of drug addiction; substantial prior contact with the criminal justice system; low educational attainment; and their status as primary carers within their communities. 

Available at:



Kempsey correctional facility opens

 The mid-north coast prison at Kempsey was built to accommodate both male and female inmates in the same centre although in separate sections. It opened in 2004 with women transferred there soon after. 

NSW Sentencing Council report – abolition of short sentences

The Sentencing Council recommended that a trial of abolition of prison sentences of six months or less be undertaken for Indigenous women in NSW. There is discussion in the Report within the context of comments made by the Social Justice Commissioner in relation to the disproportionate sentencing of Indigenous men and women to shorter sentences for public order offences or fine default, an indication that ‘non-custodial sentencing alternatives are not being used for them (NSW Sentencing Council 2004). 

Dillwynia opens

Dillwynia Correctional Centre at Sth Windsor next to John Moroney Correctional Centre, a men’s prison, opened as the first purpose-built female facility in NSW, especially constructed to meet the needs and demands of the increasing female population.

The proposal to build Dillwynia had prompted great outcry from women’s organisations and led to the Legislative Council inquiry ‘The Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population’- which recommended not proceeding with construction of a further facility (see above).

According to a previous Governor (now replaced by the title of ‘Manager’), Marilyn Wright, Dillwynia tries to mirror life in general society, and enables women to live and operate in a working environment that will help them fit back into the community post-release.  The centre is built on a ‘town square principle’ and accommodates women in a series of houses with 10 bed units, with each area having its own community centre.  Women can apply to obtain any of the various jobs on offer at the centre, and offenders will also have the opportunity to work on outside community projects.  The centre has a coffee shop run by offenders and available to visitors (NSW Corrective Services Bulletin, issue 573 May 2004; 4-5)

The design of the centre recognises the need to provide a safe, humane and supportive environment where women can maximise opportunities for autonomy, self-determination, responsibility and independent decision-making. Community living is intended to promote respect and responsibility in the women and prepare them for release. A strong emphasis has been placed on fostering opportunities for individual inmates to meet their goals and aspirations, such as participation in accredited vocational programs linked to employment (NSW Government 2003: 145). There is no publically available evaluation of the centre available to indicate whether these goals are being met.

Women’s Facilities and Services Command

The Department established a Women’s Facilities and Services Command responsible for the management of female inmates (that is; in relation to the delivery of policy, services and programs).  The Command was to provide advice and support to facilities accommodating female offenders. It more or less replaced the Women’s services unit but it too no longer exists.


Submission to Anti Discrimination Board alleging discrimination

In 2005, the Beyond Bars Alliance alleged race, sex and disability discrimination against female prisoners under Federal anti-discrimination legislation and human rights conventions.  The areas covered in the submission included policing, courts, and issues specific to custodial corrections (such as access to work opportunities), community corrections and post-release matters, inter alia.  Specific examples of discrimination dealt with in the submission related to strip searching of women; women with cognitive and mental disabilities; classification based on risk and assessed with reference to prisoner ‘needs’ (thereby discriminating against women, Aboriginal women and women with disabilities in particular); lack of low security correctional facilities for women in NSW; lack of accessible information for CALD women; and inadequate provision of post-release support places for women.  The ADB declined to investigate.  

Submission available at



Justice Health’s Strategic Plan

Justice Health (formerly Corrections Health Services) released a strategic plan – A New Direction for Justice Health: Health Service Strategic Plan to 2010 - which made provision for female prisoners and their health needs.  For instance, relevant actions included implementation of the Framework for Pregnant Women in Custody; ensuring women are offered breast cancer screening and are subject to cervical screening, as appropriate; and that links are created with external community health and specialised women’s health services and local hospitals.

Plan available at:


Mental health facilities – Silverwater

A mental health screening unit was opened at Silverwater as part of a collaboration with Justice Health.  It is a 10-bed facility able to assess, establish treatment regimes and provide information to courts in relation to relevant offenders (DCS Annual Report 06/07: 34).


The DCS NSW Inmate Census (2010) indicates that women were accommodated at the following facilities:

In custody (maximum security)

Silverwater Women’s (formerly Mulawa) (remand and sentenced); Wellington (sentenced); and Special Purpose Centre, Psychiatric Unit, Hospital Annex (Long Bay)

In custody (medium security)

Berrima (sentenced); Junee (sentenced); and Dillwynia (remand and sentenced)

In custody (minimum security)

Broken Hill (sentenced); Dillwynia (remand and sentenced); Emu Plains (remand and sentenced); Mid-north Coast Kempsey (sentenced); Grafton (remand and sentenced); and Wellington (remand and sentenced).

Work release

Dillwynia and Emu Plains

Transitional Centres (sentenced)

Parramatta and Bolwara (at Emu Plains)

Periodic detention

Bathurst, Tomago, and Wollongong

Current Facilities

June Baker Centre – Grafton

The June Baker Centre is a medium/minimum security facility for both men and women located in Grafton. As well as housing sentenced offenders, the Centre serves as a reception prison for northern NSW.

Broken Hill Correctional Centre

Broken Hill Correctional Centre, which is a medium security and minimum-security institution for both males and females, is located in far western NSW, 1190km from Sydney.  The medium security section is a reception prison for a large area of the State bordered by Queensland in the north, Victoria in the south and South Australia in the west. It holds a mixture of sentenced and remand inmates (although only sentenced females (see Census above)).

Wellington Correctional Centre

This Centre is a minimum and maximum-security facility for men and women in Wellington, near Dubbo.  It is the reception prison for the Orana region.  It provides employment in industrial tasks such as packaging and assembly, engineering, and printing. 

Berrima Correctional Complex

In 1944 it was decided by the NSW Government that the site would be remodeled to be used as a prison facility once more.  It is south of Sydney and near Mittagong.  It reopened to house prisoners in November 1949 (Ramsland: 302), and its name was changed to Berrima Training Centre, to emphasise the notion of rehabilitating criminals through training (302).  Today the facility is used as a medium security facility for women.  Inmates are able to participate in community work (if appropriate).  There is a work release program to encourage re-integration for inmates. 

Dillwynia Correctional Centre

Dilwynia opened as the first purpose built female correctional facility in New South Wales in 2004 and was specially constructed to meet the needs and demands of the increasing female population.  It is a 200-bed facility.  The proposal to build Dillwynia had prompted great outcry from women’s organisations and led to the Legislative Council inquiry ‘The Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population.’

Today Dillwynia Correction Centre is a medium security institution for females in South Windsor, and is a part of the John Morony Correctional Complex.  It has a focus upon vocational training, rehabilitative programming and preparation for release and reintegration into the community.  Employment at the Centre includes staffing a café in the visitor area. Dilwynia won a Silver Award in the Social Justice category of the Premier’s Awards in 2006/07 on the basis of the design of the facility – with small residential  units available to the women, ‘encouraging the development of community groups’.  Dilwynia is said to have ‘improved service access for female offenders, demonstrated consultation with disadvantaged groups and improved services for women in custody’.  It has, for instance, established partnerships with local services (such as Penrith Women’s Refuge) to enable women to access relevant support pre- and post-release. (DCS Annual Report 06/07: 35)

Emu Plains Correctional Centre

Currently the facility is a minimum-security institution for women, opened after release of the Department of Corrective Services Women’s Action Plan (1994).  Women took over the complete operation of the industries at Emu Plains that had previously been run by male inmates, which included dairy.  Specialised accommodation was also constructed for 56 female inmates and their children (Ramsland 1996:336).  It offers work release for women.  Bolwara House is located adjacent to Emu Plains Correctional Centre.

Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre (formally Mulawa)

Mulawa Training and Detention Centre opened as a women’s prison in 1970 at Silverwater Correctional Centre. The old women’s prison at Long Bay was then converted into Malabar training centre as a medium security prison for men.

Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre is a maximum-security facility for women and the major reception centre for female offenders in NSW.  It is one of three facilities within the Silverwater Correctional Complex.  A women’s mental health screening unit and clinic was developed at Silverwater in 2006/07 as part of a multi-million dollar refurbishment of the Centre.

Parramatta Transitional Centre

Following the recommendation from the Women’s Action Plan (1994), the Parramatta Transitional Centre was established for female inmates in 1997.  The centre can accommodate up to 21 women (some with children).  The women are able to increase their skills with respect to education and employment; financial management; and general living skills.  Women are encouraged to attend counseling sessions outside the centre, and are provided with welfare-related support (such as locating post-release accommodation).  On-site programs have include restorative justice and job seeking skills programs (Lynch 2000: 11).

Balund-a (Tabulam)

Balund-a is a facility operating outside Tabulam in northern NSW.  It provides a diversionary option for men and women mainly from the Bundjalung Nation (aged 18-35) to reduce re-offending and enhance skills within culturally responsive environment.  The diversion may be as a condition of bail or post-sentence and sometimes under community-based orders.

Local Elders provide support and assist residents to recognise, restore and value cultural links with their land and history. Residents participate in a range of programs, most from the local community, delivered in a culturally sensitive environment. It aims to develop partnerships with community organisations in order to support resettlement, allowing continuing support after the resident leaves Balund-a.  Programs include drug and alcohol, cognitive behavioural therapy, cultural healing-type programs, relationship training, parenting and cultural activity-oriented. 

South Coast Correctional Centre

The South Coast Correctional Centre is located in South Nowra, 5 kilometres from the CBD. Construction commenced in July 2008 and was completed in 2010. The Centre began operation in December 2010) .

The South Coast Correctional Centre is a multi-classification regional correctional centre for adult offenders.  It is intended to mainly house offenders who have been sentenced in the region, or who have family/community ties to the area. The South Coast Correctional Centre provides facilities for male (maximum to minimum security) and female offenders (minimum security), from. As a reception correctional centre the facility also houses those un-sentenced offenders who have been remanded in custody awaiting court.

For further information, go to:



1980 – Women’s wing at Cessnock –women transferred to Tomago

1981 - Tomago Women’s Open Institution closes

1984 – Bathurst women’s wing

Overcrowding at Mulawa led to the establishment of a women’s wing at Bathurst Correctional Centre, a male facility.  This section was closed following completion of Dawn de Loas Centre and a new Segregation Unit at Mulawa in 1989.  Bathurst inmates were then transferred to Mulawa or Norma Parker.

1997 - Norma Parker Correctional Centre

The former Parramatta Girls Home was opened as Norma Parker Centre, a low-security prison for women, housing approximately 40 inmates (Blake 1988:19).  It was closed in mid-1997, but was re-opened as a Periodic Detention Centre for women.  It is currently closed.


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WIPT indicates that there were 12 women transferred. (WIPTF: 47).

Taken from DCS website: http://www.dcs.nsw.gov.au/offender_management/offender_management_in_the_community