Women in prison South Australia 1970-2010

Vulnerable Groups in prison: Women in South Australia

A Statistical and Policy Account 1970 - 2010


Women’s Rehabilitation Centre opened 1969

This was the first purpose-built women’s prison in SA.



As at 30 June 1974, there were 844 men and 147 women on probation; 123 men and 9 women on parole; and 723 men and 29 women in prison.  Of 991 men and women under probation supervision, 507 were on suspended sentences (Telfer 1999: 239).



In the mid 1980s the rate of female imprisonment in South Australia was one of the lowest of any of the jurisdictions (4.3 per 100,000 population compared with 5.4 in Victoria, 10.1 in NSW, and 26.7 in the NT).  As at 1983, a relatively high proportion of female prisoners were incarcerated for ‘misappropriation’ (30%).


Corrections Act – assessment of prisoner to take into account gender

This legislation provides for assessment of prisoners having regard to age, sex, social, medical, and other background (see s. 23).


Women’s Rehabilitation Centre closed

The Women’s Rehabilitation Centre ceased operating when the Northfield Prison Complex, Women’s Centre and Cottages were combined.  A number of inmate committees were also established.


Report of Advisory Committee for Women in Prison

This Advisory Committee was established in 1984 to identify areas of concern and interest in relation to the needs of female prisoners in South Australia.  At this time, women were accommodated in the Women’s Centre at Northfield Prison Complex, Port Augusta Prison (accommodating a greater proportion of Indigenous female prisoners), Mt Gambier Prison and Port Lincoln Prison. 

The Committee’s report recommended that a female offender policy be developed (with reference to recommendations set out by the Committee) and that Northfield Prison Complex be further developed into a ‘co-ordinate’ prison which ‘takes into account the special needs of women in any plans for integrated programs’.  Specific issues in terms of future research included female offender participation in sentencing alternatives (including Community Service Orders); female offenders on probation and parole; and the relationship between drug abuse and female offending.  Further recommendations related to issues such as offender classification, education, health and welfare, and staffing, inter alia (Advisory Committee for Women in Prison 1985).



Lilburn discusses the differential impact of sentencing in relation to fine default offences in South Australia.  The following tables are provided (representing numbers of prison discharges in 1998):

  Women Men
Fine Default 211 1183
Remand 149 1292
Sentenced 121 1528


  Aboriginal Women Non-Aboriginal Women Aboriginal status Unknown
Fine Default 86 80 45
Remand 52 69 28
Sentenced 25 77 19

Lilburn concluded that a higher proportion of women were incarcerated for fine default and that Aboriginal women were more than three times as likely to be imprisoned for fine default than non-Indigenous women.  This was due to the ‘personal and economic instability’ of women and the difficulties they therefore faced in paying fines.  Although there had been recent legislative changes to the fine default scheme, attempting to ultimately reduce prison numbers (for instance, allowing suspension of a license in lieu of imprisonment), Lilburn suggests that a similar scheme introduced in Western Australia in 1995 had not reduced rates of imprisonment for fine defaulting for Aboriginal women (Lilburn 2000: 4-5).


Corrections policy – children to reside with incarcerated mothers

Following a request by a mother to have her child reside with her in prison, the Department for Correctional Services (DCS) issued an Instruction indicating the importance of ‘maintaining parent-child relationships particularly with very young children’.  It stated that ‘in appropriate circumstances where it is both in the interests of the child and consistent with prison security and management, provision may be made for a child to live with the parent in prison’ (D.I. No. 46).  Thereafter women could accommodate their children with them (Clay & Burfitt 2000).

Following perceived difficulties with this scheme, it was thought necessary to develop a new policy or to formally review the existing one, to define a program model and develop MOUs with other key agencies. The DCS oversaw this process (Clay & Burfitt 2000).


Adelaide Women’s Prison to be replaced

DCS foreshadowed replacement of Adelaide Women’s Prison, which was seen as ‘unfit-for-purpose’ (DCS Annual Report 2001.02: 5).

Case management introduced

Case management was introduced throughout South Australian prisons, following piloting of the system in Adelaide Women's Prison and the Port Augusta Prison women's unit.


Who’s Minding the Kids? – report by University of South Australia

This report, prepared by the Social Policy Research Group at the University of South Australia, was based upon interviews with primary carers (of children of incarcerated mothers), incarcerated mothers and children of incarcerated mothers.  It considered the effects upon children of the imprisonment of their mothers.  The report set out a number of recommendations, including that a support worker position should be created to assist carers of children of incarcerated mothers.  The report pointed out that children of male prisoners are generally in the care of their mothers, but that children of female prisoners are in many instances in the sole care of their mothers prior to imprisonment and are not then cared for by one of their parents during the mother’s incarceration.



As at 2008-09, of 1935 prisoners in South Australian prisons 127 inmates were female (approximately 6%). (See DCS Annual Report 2008/09 for latest statistics: http://www.corrections.sa.gov.au/welcome.htm)


Women’s Legal Service – Taken In report  

The Women’s Legal Service compiled a report in relation to the impact that arrest and contact with the justice system had upon families.  It involved interviews with female prisoners at Adelaide Women’s and Port Augusta prisons, as well as consultation with criminal justice and welfare agencies (including the judiciary, legal profession and NGOs).

Problems with the current system were identified – specifically relating to the fact that women had to negotiate two different systems – the criminal legal system and the welfare system. In short, the report suggests that the ‘risks that arise when women who have dependent children enter the criminal legal system must be acknowledged in coordinated planning within and between the legal and social welfare systems’ (1).  It contained 21 recommendations, including advocating for better data collection, provision of training for police officers in their contact with the children of the women that they deal with, an obligation to caution women suspected of social security fraud, and improving means by which women and children might remain together during incarceration.

According to Lilburn:

         (t)he key point made in the report is that the failure to recognise, except at the most

rudimentary level, the circumstances of women who have dependent children in the procedures used in the criminal legal system reinforces the systemic bias against women in the justice system. Because of this systemic failure - reflected in the use of inadequate and inconsistent practices – women and their children are subject to unjust, extraneous and even illegal treatment (2).



Women’s housing project – post-release

In 2000, the Women's Accommodation Support Service (WASS) was set up at Offender Aid and Rehabilitation Service (OARSSA) to provide an outreach case management and support service for women exiting the Adelaide Women's Prison (Leafe)


Overcrowding at Adelaide Women’s Prison

Overcrowding at Adelaide Women’s Prison meant that women had to be accommodated at Adelaide Watch House or at Port August Prison.  There were also increasing numbers of women with mental health and drug issues at this time.


New Mother and Infants Unit at Adelaide Women’s Prison

The new Unit was able to accommodate four mothers and four infants up to three years of age.  As at 2005, the Living Skills Unit at Adelaide Women’s Prison accommodated children.  The Unit had a parenting section with two separate units for up to four women at a time with children.  Each mother was required to apply for permission from the DCS to have her child with her.  At the Unit children up to the age of 12 years were also able to have longer visits with their mother.  All institutions also permitted special visits for children in alternative care.  A Good Beginnings program was made available to women to assist with parenting and this was evaluated as having positive impacts for those involved (Steering Committee 2005: 19).

Crisis Accommodation and Support Needs of Women Exiting Custody – DHS report

This report by the Department of Human Services looked at numbers of women exiting custody who were homeless; identified housing outcomes for these women; and set out their experiences and attitudes in relation to accommodation.  Further, any then-current processes impacting upon housing outcomes were also considered.  It also discussed the effects of imprisonment in relation to debt and loss of housing, as well as the difficulties it created for women seeking to transition back into the community.

In 2002 this Department attempted to develop a model to assist women exiting prison (see below).


Department of Human Services – Support for women exiting prison

The Department of Human Services developed Supporting Women Exiting Prison and their Children on the Outside: Coordinated Care and Early Intervention Approaches.   This project was directed towards developing a model of care that assisted women exiting prison with health and other issues and assisted their children and families during the women’s incarceration and thereafter.   A number of strategies were to be implemented by both justice and DHS portfolios.

New prison to be built for women – private/public partnership

As early as 2002, the Department indicated an intention to construct a new 120-bed women’s facility (DCS Annual Report 02/03) (see below).  This was due to a perception that female prisoners are disadvantaged – with fewer accommodation options available to them as remandees, low security inmates and inmates in regional locations (DCS Annual Report 04/5: 9).

In 2008/09, the Department was to complete the tender process for a new Public Private Partnership for additional prisons for men and women (commended in 2001/02).

The development was to include a new men’s and women’s prison (NMWP) sharing a single secure perimeter fence, with a number of units shared between the two (eg. a single gatehouse, medical centre etc) managed by DCS, comprising a 760 cell men’s prison expandable to 940 cells during the life of the contract, and a 150 cell women’s prison expandable to 200 cells during the life of the contract; and an 80 bed pre-release centre at Cavan (60 men’s beds and 20 women’s beds) in a single secure perimeter with each unit separated with secure perimeter fences, expandable to 100 beds (70 men and 30 women) during the life of the contract.

The private sector partner was to design, finance, build and maintain the facilities. Core services were to be delivered by the public sector.

However, this project was cancelled.




Review of women prisoners’ health requirements - DCS

DCS undertook a project to identify the development and promotion of a health service for women prisoners (in conjunction with the Department of Human Services).


Karinga’s Women’s Hostel

The Department piloted the Karinga Women’s Release and Diversion Hostel in collaboration with Aboriginal Hostels Ltd.  Karinga Women's Release and Diversion Hostel provides, according to the Department, culturally appropriate, safe, stable, transitional and supported accommodation for Indigenous women. Residents of Karinga can either be completing a custodial sentence, serving a home-detention or community order, or have a case pending before the courts. Women can also be referred to Karinga if they have completed their sentence in full and are in need of post-release accommodation and support. 

Karinga can accommodate eleven women, with three of those on Home Detention. Karinga residents are supported by the Department’s case managers and community agency support workers to settle into community living, access long-term accommodation and benefit from life skills programs and services.  It was the only Indigenous Women's Release and Diversion Hostel operating in the country for Indigenous women offenders, according to the Department (DCS Annual Report 03/04) although it is not Indigenous specific. 

As at June 2005, 29 women had passed through the hostel (including 15 Indigenous women and 14 non-Indigenous women) (DCS Annual Report 04/05: 80). 


Multi-disciplinary unit for co-morbidity

The Department responded to increasing numbers of female inmates entering prison with co-morbidity issues.  Adelaide Women’s Prison introduced a multi-disciplinary Professional Service Unit with a team of social workers, psychologists, case management coordinators, an Aboriginal Liaison Officer, and a Parenting Adviser to address these issues.  The Unit was also directed towards establishing key partnerships with external service providers (DCS Annual Report 04/05: 23).

Library – Adelaide Women’s Prison

Volunteers assisted with the relocation and establishment of the Adelaide Women’s Living Skills Unit library.


OSCAR - drug use of women prisoners

The Office of Crime Statistics and Research (SA) (OSCAR) reported on a Commonwealth study into the drug use careers of offenders conducted in relation to males (2001), females (03/04) and juveniles (04/05).   The prevalence of drug use reported by those who had participated in the study appeared to be higher in South Australia when compared to national rates.   For example, around three quarters of those interviewed reported that they had bought drugs regularly, and 22 out of 38 interviewees indicated that they were ‘high’ on illegal drugs at the time of committing an offence (OSCAR 2005).

Report available at:



Steering Committee – Children of Prisoners report

In 2003 the Justice Cabinet Committee initiated the Children of Prisoners and Offenders project to ‘determine ways in which to improve service provision to children whose parents have come into contact with the criminal justice system’. 

In 2006, the Steering Committee reported to Cabinet in relation to incarcerated parents.  The report was based upon interviews with incarcerated parents and carers of children of incarcerated parents and considered the impacts upon children and families of incarceration.  It called for increased data collection in this context; increased community awareness of relevant issues; improved services for children of incarcerated persons; and better pre-release and post-release planning to maximize the opportunity for successful reintegration.

An action plan was developed by the Committee, which was intended to generate discussion.  It set out three overarching aims, including minimising the personal, social and economic harm of parental incarceration upon children; key principles; and key action areas (including evidence-based policy and planning and promotion of successful family reunification).

Report available at: http://www.justice.sa.gov.au/publications/index.php


Adelaide Women’s Prison

This facility takes the bulk of female prisoners, with some also accommodated at Port Augusta.

The Adelaide Women’s Prison has two main sections - mainstream, which accommodates high, medium and low security and remand prisoners; and the Living Skills Unit (LSU) for low security women.  They are distinctly separated areas which in total accommodate 148 women.  Mainstream has cellblock accommodation while the LSU is for women close to release, who are given opportunities to develop skills through special programming.  This may consist of education or work programs available outside the prison and special development programs that are run inside the prison.  These women live in transportable units each containing their own kitchen, toilets and bathroom.  Women accommodated here are responsible for all their own domestic needs, using stores supplied by the prison.  There are four of these units available for use by nursing mothers.  These special units consist of a bedroom for the mother, a nursery for her baby and a living area, which includes a kitchen/dining room.  Prisoners in the LSU also have an industries facility available for work.  This includes a manufacturing line producing items for private industry.  It is from the Living Skills Unit that most women will be released.  The Mainstream unit also has one nursery cell available similar to that in the LSU. Mainstream prisoners are eligible for vocational training programs held within the prison and education programs are also available.

Port Augusta

Port Augusta Prison is a multi-purpose facility providing accommodation up to 363 high, medium and low security prisoners, including protectees and special needs prisoners.  Of the 363 beds, up to 8 beds are for women prisoners.  The prison is one of only two facilities in the State that provides specific accommodation for female prisoners and the only prison to provide regular accommodation for both male and female prisoners.

Mount Gambier Prison

This facility is able to accommodate short-term, high security female remandees.  It is privately operated by GSL Custodial Services P/L. But the majority of female remandees are accommodated at Adelaide.


Advisory Committee for Women in Prison, Department of Correctional Services (SA), (1985) Women in Prison: the report of the Advisory Committee for Women in Prison, Department of Correctional Services, South Australia

Aoukar, R, (2005) Women in the criminal justice system: A study on prisons and community based corrections, Flinders University

Clay, C & Burfitt, A (2000) ‘Do children and prison go together?’ paper presented at ‘Women in Corrections: Staff and Clients’, AIC conference


Dawes, M (1984) ‘Women in the prison system: South Australia’, Hatty, S (ed.) Women in the prison system: proceedings, 12-14 June 1984, AIC Canberra

Department of Correctional Services (DCS), Annual Reports DCS Adelaide

Department of Human Services, (2001) Crisis Accommodation and Support Needs of Women Exiting Custody, DHS South Australia

Department of Human Services, (2002) Supporting women exiting prison and their children on the outside: Coordinated care and early intervention approaches, Government of South Australia, Adelaide

Dutreix, C (2000) ‘Women’s accommodation support service and other post release issues from a client perspective’, paper presented at ‘Women in Corrections: Staff and Clients’, AIC conference


Dutreix, C (2003) ‘Homelessness and Women Exiting Prison’, Paper presented at the 3rd National Homelessness Conference ‘Beyond the Divide, Australian Federation of Homelessness Organisations


Leafe, J, (2008) ‘Homelessness men and women exiting prison in South Australia’, Parity vol 21 (9) 22

Lilburn, S (2000) ‘Taken in – when women with dependent children are taken into custody’, paper presented at ‘Women in Corrections: Staff and Clients’, AIC conference


McCarrigan, M & Kanck, S, (1995) Women’s Prisons in South Australia: Northfield and human rights, University of Adelaide SA

McGrath, B (2000) ‘A Roof Overhead’, paper presented at ‘Women in Corrections: Staff and Clients’, AIC conference


McGrath, B (1999) ‘The Taryn House Project: issues related to working with substance dependent women who have been in prison’, paper at Australasian Conference on Drugs Strategy, 27-29 April 1999

Morgan, A, Wild, M & Williams, L (2000) ‘Coordinated care for women exiting prison, their children and families’, paper presented at ‘Women in Corrections: Staff and Clients’, AIC conference


Nikolas, H (2000) ‘The Well Women Project: Meeting Women’s Nutritional Needs at the Adelaide Women’s Prison’, paper presented at ‘Women in Corrections: Staff and Clients’, AIC conference


Nikolas, H & Fudali, C, (2000) Well Women Project final report for the period 01/04/99 – 23/06/00 Department of Correctional Services, SA


Nyland, M (1995) ‘Gender issues in sentencing’, Bulletin (Law Society of S.A.), 17(7) 14

Office of Crime Statistics and Research (OSCAR), (2005) Drug Use and Offending: A study of female prisoners in South Australia, Department of Justice SA


Pinnuck, F (1999) Penetrating the Fences: A Gender Analysis of the Prison, PhD Thesis, Department of Social Inquiry, University of Adelaide, SA


Ridgway, A., Yatala Labour Prison, et al. (2001). Maintaining Programs for Aboriginal Offenders in Yatala Labour Prison, Adelaide Women's Prison and Elizabeth Community Corrections, South Australia. Best Practice Interventions in Corrections for Indigenous People Conference, Sydney, Australian Institute of Criminology.

Social Policy Research Group, (1998) Who’s Minding the Kids, University of South Australia

Steering Committee, (2005) Children of Prisoners Project: Steering Committee’s Report to the Justice Cabinet Committee


Terry-Beitz, P (1994) ‘Current policy and practice in the education and training of women in prison in South Australia’, in Cook, S & Semmens, B (eds) Employment, education and training of offenders: focusing on national agendas, Melbourne Conference Proceedings 27-29 March 1994 – International Forum on Education on Penal Systems

Women’s Legal Service, (2000) Taken in: When women with dependent children are taken into custody: Implications for justice and welfare

[1] This information is taken from the Department for Correctional Services website: http://www.corrections.sa.gov.au