Women in prison Tasmania 1970-2010

Vulnerable Groups in prison: Women in Tasmania

A Statistical and Policy Account 1970 - 2010



In 1975 the Women’s section of Risdon prison had capacity for 23 persons but had 7-8 women in residence.  This remained fairly constant throughout the 70s and into the 80s, according to a commentator writing in 1985, except when numbers increased as a result of the protest at the Franklin River (Powell 1985: 9).


Grubb inquiry into prisons administration

South Australian Justice Grubb was engaged by the Tasmanian government to consider the then-current administration of prisons in Tasmania in large part due to allegations raised in public relating to rape of inmates at Risdon.

Grubb’s report does not include any significant focus upon women prisoners.  It indicates that women were at this time housed at Risdon prison complex in a maximum-security facility alongside males (in both maximum and medium security facilities).  The Women’s Prison at Risdon is praised by Grubb in terms of aesthetics and layout but he questions the need for a maximum-security prison with capacity for 23.  Others also suggested that the facility was better designed than the male facilities and a vast improvement on their previous accommodation at Campbell Street Gaol (Evans 2004: 26ff).  Grubb, however, recommended that women be accommodated instead in a facility similar to the Women’s Rehabilitative Centre in Adelaide, that the security cells be maintained at Risdon for use as required, and that the remainder of the Women’s Prison be used for first offenders and non-security risk persons as a remand centre.  This did not occur.

Grubb also recommended that the status of the Matron-in-Charge of the Women’s Prison be upgraded to a status equivalent to Governor.  Furthermore, the visiting section in the prison had wire mesh in place for security reasons, which precluded women prisoners from making proper physical contact with their children and it was recommended that an alternative arrangement be used in different rooms to address this problem.

Other information provided about Risdon at this time included that women could have their infants under 12 months of age with them, but that older children had to be removed unless there were sufficient health reasons for them to remain with their mothers.  Activities for women were ‘home-centred’ and included first aid, home nursing, and needlework (Evans 2004: 32)



In 1983, a comparison between the different jurisdictions indicates that Tasmania had one of the lowest number of female prisoners (6 women compared with 171 in New South Wales, 73 in Victoria, 66 in Western Australia, 20 in South Australia, and 10 in the Northern Territory) (Powell 1985). Of course Tasmania also had one of smallest populations of the Australian states and territories.


Study in relation to women’s programs

Powell’s study indicates that the Superintendent of the Women’s Prison was at this time under direction of the Superintendent of the Male Prison, with the latter having to approve purchases made from the women’s personal prison earnings.  She also indicates that there was only maximum-security classification for women and no record of the Indigenous status of female prisoners.  Educational and other programs at Risdon for women are outlined and included literacy, sex education (provided by the Superintendent) and craft.  The discrepancy between programs for men and women is noted, particularly in relation to pre-release programs and volunteer tutors in different areas, and Tasmania appeared to fare well when compared with women prisoners in other jurisdictions in this context.

Recommendations included increased visiting hours, of particular benefit to women with children, and development of community-based release programs (in preference to classifying and dealing with women only in accordance with maximum-security classification) (Powell 1985).

Others have identified the problem in terms of provisions of programs as being due to the fact that women mostly served short sentences and because of their low numbers (Evans 2004: 45).



There was an increase from 5 inmates in the Women’s Prison in 1992 (1.8% of a total prison population for that year of 269) to 15 in 1999 (4.5% of a total of 330).  Women prisoners in Tasmania formed only an average of 3% of the prison population over that period compared with a national average of approximately 5.5%.  The number of female prisoners generally fluctuated between 1 and 20.  Marris suggests that the lower percentage in Tasmania was due to the fact that women in that state were less likely to be involved in (and implicitly, to be incarcerated for) offences of prostitution, drugs and ‘associated ‘metropolitan’ crime which is less evident in Tasmania’.  The trend, according to Marris, in female imprisonment had been ‘marginally downwards’ (Marris 1995: 27).

Mothers and children

Tasmania allowed women to be with their children in prison.  Section 86 of the Tasmanian Prison Regulations provides for female inmates to have their children up to the age of four with them in prison.  Cases are considered on an individual basis, with reference to factors such as whether a mother is breastfeeding, the support available outside prison (that is, whether a child would have to be made a ward of the State), and whether the child is born in prison (DCS 1994: 63).


Neasey Inquiry - Classification

The Neasey Inquiry arose out of an incident that occurred in 1992. In December 1992 three long-term minimum security inmates were permitted to attend the final of the Tasmanian Debating Union. On returning to Hobart, one of the drivers (an inmate) was brethalysed by police and found to be over the limit. Charges were laid and after a media outcry, the Minister of Justice ordered an inquiry. The Inquiry was charged with investigating ‘the system of classification, policy regarding inmates’ participation in activities outside the prison, the procedure for transporting inmates, and the cost implications of the recommendations (Evans 2004: 83).

Neasey’s report contained 22 recommendations, with brief mention of the needs of women prisoners.  The Women’s Prison had only one classification – maximum- and women of different classifications were therefore required to mix within that facility.  This was seen to cause problems, for instance, where a woman with a psychological disturbance was placed with minimum-security female prisoners because there was no alternative accommodation.  The small numbers of women prisoners made finding a solution difficult, however it was noted that ‘the problem is sufficiently serious to warrant careful attention’ (Neasey: 78)  One of the recommendations referred to the need to address the issue of women’s classification.


Marris, General Manager of Corrective Services (Tasmania) considered future development of prison infrastructure, given the then-current conditions at the out-moded Risdon complex (constructed in 1950).  The small number of women prisoners (5-12 at a time) led Marris to suggest that a facility with diverse classifications was appropriate.  The Women’s Prison was said to ‘work quite well’ (47).  Separate female facilities based upon different classification levels of prisoners would not only be economically impracticable but also lead to isolation of prisoners due to their small numbers.   Further, women ought not to be accommodated with males – although locating the Women’s Prison on the same campus as men enabled ‘some sharing of facilities’.  Female remandees should also be housed with female prisoners.  There was thus no suggestion that a separate facility be built for women prisoners (Marris 1995)


Legislative Council Select Committee: Correctional Services and Sentencing

The Committee inquired into the operation of correctional services and sentencing, with particular reference to the privatization of prisons, rehabilitation and parole, inter alia.  The conditions of Risdon Maximum Security Prison were seen as largely ‘appalling’, but the conditions of the Women’s Prison section were better (Legislative Council Select Committee: 27).  The Committee recommended that the Risdon complex be replaced, and that two new facilities be developed – each with a separate women’s section to enable differentiation between maximum, medium and minimum-security classifications.



The Tasmanian female prison population increased between 1997-98 and 2007-08 five-fold - from 7 to 37 increasing in the proportion of prisoners who are female (from 2.5% to 6.9% of the total prisoner population).  Whilst nationally the female rate of imprisonment rose by 60% over the last 10 years, the Tasmanian increase was ‘more dramatic’, but this may be due to the low starting figure.  This increase has been attributed to ‘increased participation in crime, changes in offence types towards more serious crimes, or changes in sentencing trends for female offenders (type of sentence, length of sentence).’  Due to shorter sentences for women than men, females make up a larger proportion of prison entry and exit figures than daily population figures.  In 2007-08 women comprised 11.5% of receptions and 10.2% of releases, including 9.1% of sentenced releases.  There was an increase in the proportion of Community Corrections offenders who were female, from 16.7% in 1999-00 to 20.7% in 2007-08 (Department of Justice 2009).


Mother and Baby Unit at Mary Hutchinson opens

This programme is still in operation (see below). 


Prison Infrastructure Redevelopment Program (PIRP)

This Program involved improvements to infrastructure to respond to rising prison numbers.  It arose from recommendations of the Select Committee review of Correctional Services and Sentencing (1999) (see above) and in particular, due to rising prisoner numbers. The PIRP Stages A-C led to the re-development of the Risdon Prison Complex and the development of Mary Hutchinson Women’s Prison in 2006.  The special needs of women were noted in the program, including the need to accommodate, where appropriate, young children  (Department of Justice 2009).

For further information, go to: http://www.justice.tas.gov.au/pirp


Mary Hutchinson Women’s Prison opens

Stage 1 of the Mary Hutchinson Women’s Prison was officially commissioned in 2006. Stage 1 included a 15-cell maximum-security accommodation area, an 8-bed mother-and- child/independent living unit, a control/operations area, administration offices and a range of multi-purpose rooms for visits, medical consultations, activities and programs. Stage 2, also scheduled for completion in 2006, included 12 minimum-security rooms and 11 medium-security rooms (Department of Justice (Tas) Annual Report 05/06: 49).


Tasmanian Law Reform Institute review of sentencing

The report was commissioned by the Attorney General due to community concern about the adequacy of sentences for crimes of violence and property crimes and about bail decisions.  The Institute recommended that the Justice Department undertake a review of the community order scheme to ensure that there were sufficient resources to provide projects for women and others with dependants (Recommendation 38).

A review of community corrections and the community orders scheme was undertaken in 2008, with no reference in the final reports to the needs of women. [1]


Tasmanian Corrections Plan 2010-2020

This Plan discusses the particular profile of Tasmanian prisoners (including, for instance, that 60% reside outside a metropolitan area and the relatively small numbers of prisoners).  In terms of female prisoners, it indicates that women’s imprisonment rates are expected to rise.


Breaking the Cycle: A Strategic Plan for Tasmanian Corrections 2011-2020

This Strategic Plan, the first of its kind in Tasmania, identifies priority action items in the areas of rehabilitation and reintegration, infrastructure, sentencing options, integration with external service providers, community engagement, workforce development, training and support and oversight and governance. It does not have a specific section on women or even mention women in the broad goals. The discussion paper refers to special needs of women.



Mary Hutchinson Women’s Prison

Based at Risdon.  For female prisoners, base capacity at MHWP is 15 in maximum-security, 12 in medium and 19 in minimum.   It accommodates women in minimum, medium and maximum security accommodation. 

Hobart Reception Prison

The Hobart Reception Prison is currently the larger of the two facilities with its maximum capacity of 36 cells and 4 time out cells.  This accommodation is set out over 5 floors, levels Three and four being the main accommodation areas for prisoners.  Each level has two distinct areas available.  One side (South) has twelve cells and the other (North) 6.  Each floor has a Correctional Officer posted to each floor

Women Police Watch House detainees are held for a maximum of 24-48 hours before being transferred to the MHWP.  The Hobart Reception Prison is not designed to hold female prisoners.

Launceston Reception Prison

As above the Launceston Reception Prison is an internal facility inside the Launceston Police Headquarters building with limited access to fresh air.  The Launceston Reception Prison is smaller than the Hobart Reception Prison and deals with up to 40% of Tasmania’s Prisoner population at some point in time.

The Launceston Reception Prison (LRP) is not a purpose built facility to hold Prisoners for lengthy periods of time and was initially designed as a Police Watch house which would only hold prisoners for 24hours maximum.

The capacity of the Launceston Reception Prison is 29 single person cells.  This facility was running at 30% over capacity (as at 19-02-2010).  The Launceston Reception prison simply deals with the initial security classification of Prisoners into the Tasmanian Prison System police Watch house detainee’s and only in certain circumstances deals with identified Prisoner issues.

The LRP has a specific three-cell section that is used for accommodating Women prisoners.  There are no permanently housed women prisoners held at this facility. These cells are utilized for women attending court appearances in the north and north west of the state. Women usually stay at the LRP for a week at most (depending on the court trail/proceedings). The other cell is used for the holding of female police detainee’s and is only utilized for up to 24 hours at a time.


Department of Justice (Tas), (2009) Breaking the Cycle – Tasmanian Corrections Plan 2010-2020: Offender Demographic and Demand Issues: Background Paper),

Department of Justice, Tasmania


Department of Justice Annual Reports

Evans, E (2004) A ‘Pink Palace’: Risdon Prison, 1960-2004, Department of Justice. Hobart, Tasmania

Grubb, R (1977) Report of the Prisons Administration Inquiry, Report to Parliament, Government Printer, Tasmania

Henning, T (1995) Psychological Explanations in Sentencing Women in Tasmania, ANZ J of Criminology 28(3)

Legislative Council Select Committee, (1999) Correctional Services and Sentencing in Tasmania, Parliament of Tasmania


Marris, B (1985) The Future of Prisons in Tasmania, Corrective Services, Tasmania

Neasey, FM, (1993) Report of an Inquiry into the System of Classification of Prisoners in Tasmania and other related matters, April 1993

Ombudsman Tasmania, (2001) Report on an Inquiry into Risdon Prison, Office of the Ombudsman, Tasmania


Powell, G (1985) A Study of the Tasmanian Women’s Prison, Risdon, Recreation and Educational Programs in the Light of Other Australian States, PhD, Hobart Technical College, Tasmania

Tasmanian Law Reform Institute, (2008) Sentencing, Final Report 11, Law Reform Institute, Hobart


[1] Reports available at http://www.justice.tas.gov.au/communitycorrections