Women in prison Victoria 1970-2010

Vulnerable Groups in prison: Women in Victoria

A Statistical and Policy Account 1970 - 2010



In 1970, 41 out of 2124 convicted prisoners (1.9%) were female, but by 1975-76, this had dropped to 24 female prisoners at Fairlea. This sparked some discussion of the possible abolition of female imprisonment in Victoria altogether, with supports outside correctional facilities able to replace such institutions. In 1970 common offences for which women were incarcerated were being drunk and disorderly and vagrancy offences. In 1976 there were still only 36 women in prison on any given day in Victoria, comprising 2% of the total prison population (Freiberg & Ross, 1999: 37, 75).  This was said to be due to ‘prevailing economic conditions of high employment and the introduction of social security payments for women with children outside the nuclear family’.  ‘Women prisoners constituted a group the public knew little about’ (George 1999: 192). The daily average number of women in prison in1979-80 was 46 (Frost).


Mothers and children at Fairlea

Women at Fairlea were permitted to have their children (up to one year of age) with them.  The Minister granted permission for a Committee to be established to consider further how the issue of imprisoned mothers and children might be resolved (Frost). From 1984, the age of the child was increased to 4 years.

Fire at Fairlea

There was a major fire at Fairlea, started by inmates.  The fire led to the deaths of 3 women, and to the commissioning of the Biles report (see below) as part of a process of considering options for future directions for women’s imprisonment in Victoria.  Half of the female prison population was relocated temporarily to Pentridge (B Annexe) (Biles 1982: 26).



By 1980 the percentage of women compared with men in prison had climbed to 3.5%. In 1980 there were 61 and in 1982 there were 65-70 female prisoners.  Only about one fifth of female prisoners were incarcerated for offences against the person, and the majority were imprisoned for property offences and prostitution and most were drug-related offences.  In 1980 half of women prisoners were serving a term of 11 months or less and 70% were serving a term of 3 years or less.  Further, 23% of female prisoners did not speak English as a first language.  The greatest proportion of female prisoners were single or economically self-dependent women with little formal education or qualifications, illustrating that female offending, court sentencing, and convictions are all linked with a woman’s class and associated economic factors (Hancock).

The number of women imprisoned increased dramatically in this decade, however - from 59 in 1981 to 102 in June 1986 and over 140 in 1989, when they comprised over 6% of the whole prison population. During the period 1976 to 1989, when the rate of male imprisonment increased by 40% in staggered jumps, female prisoner numbers rose steadily at nearly ten times the rate of males (Freiberg & Ross, 1999: 75-6).

An increase in numbers prosecuted for drug-related offences and in length of sentences for such offences in the 1980s meant that more women were imprisoned.

This increase did not signal a rise in women’s criminality.  Rather it reflected the law’s continuing focus on poverty, order and street offenses.  The only difference was that drug addiction and prohibition served to provide a new justification for criminalization (George 1999:192)

As at June 1989, 40% of women prisoners had property offences recorded as their most serious offence, and 17% had drug offences as their most serious offence. Victorian women prisoners served longer aggregate prison sentences than their counterparts in other jurisdictions, and were imprisoned at a rate of 5.5 per 100,000 of the population compared to 7.4 per 100,000 for the remainder of Australia.

In 1988 there were 116 women in prison, an increase of 446% from the mid 70s.  Male imprisonment had increased only 11% over this same period of time.  It is noted that Australia-wide, female incarceration increased by 217% over this time.  This increase was not attributable to rising crime rates but to the deteriorating economic position of women.  Further, 36% of women in prison had a maximum-security rating, compared with 31% of men, although they did not commit the same level of serious offences.  Women were 40 times more likely to be imprisoned for fine default, for instance, than men.  In 1985, 2405 fines were imposed on women and 11,045 on men, but women were imprisoned for fine default in that year at a rate of 5.3% of the female prison population, compared to 1.5% of the male prison population. This was argued to be due to the economic circumstances of women.  Women were also twice as likely to be imprisoned for fraud than men – most often related to social security fraud.  This may have been attributable to provisions such as those that mandate that womens’ benefits were reduced if they were living with a man, despite the fact that men may not support women and children that they live with.  Further, women in prison were proportionately more likely to suicide than men – from 1982-87, the rate of female prisoner suicide was one per 500 women – four times the rate outside prison; the rate for male prisoners was three times lower than the rate outside prison for men.

Women were more likely to be imprisoned for drug offences than men (17% of women to 7.8% of men), with a high co-relation between drug use and drug –related offending. Drug offences (and property crimes) carry longer minimum sentences than the prostitution and disorderly offences for which women were traditionally imprisoned, and thus this trend lead to an increase in female prison populations (Denton 1994: 9)

Factors contributing to this increase were discussed in the Fitzroy Legal Centre’s 1988 report – Women and Imprisonment in Victoria (Fitzroy Legal Centre 1988). Women’s socio-economic position contributed to these figures; for instance, women were 40 times more likely than men to be imprisoned for fine default; twice as likely to be  imprisoned for trafficking; four times as likely to be imprisoned for simple drug use; and almost twice as likely to be imprisoned for fraud.

(See also Biles 1982).

Early 1980s

Somebody’s Daughter Theatre group

The Somebody’s Daughter Theatre Group performed every couple of years to an audience of people from outside the prison.  The group was set up by drama students and initially at least involved women under sentence and performed only inside prison.  From the 1990s, however, its members were primarily women in the post-release phase.  It provided women with a ‘forum…. to share their experiences, giving them a voice and the opportunity to make connections in prison that translate into connections upon release’ (Armytage 2000: 15).


Biles – Review of Women Prisoners in Victoria

Following the fire at Fairlea, Biles was commissioned to conduct a review of the needs of women prisoners in Victoria.  Accommodation required was calculated at around 80 beds or cells.  All accommodation, it was proposed, ought to be in metropolitan Victoria, with Fairlea to be converted to a medium-security facility for from 20-24 prisoners (with an education centre and medical unit.  It was recommended that a new site should be selected for a low-security pre-release centre for women (approximately 10).  In ‘extreme cases’ it was (reluctantly) recommended that ‘dangerous or disruptive’ women prisoners be transferred to Jika Jika.  Fairlea ought to be able to accommodate (within appropriate facilities) babies and young children; all female remandees should be accommodated in a new remand centre;  and ALL women  should be provided with appropriate medical and psychiatric care and a full range of education, training and recreational options (the latter for women at Fairlea) (Biles 1982).


Another Fire at Fairlea

A fire was deliberately lit in Fairlea Women’s Prison, causing three inmate deaths.  This was the third major fire at Fairlea, and other unrest at this facility had included strikes by prisoners over wages for sewing, work in the kitchen and housework.  Whilst some few women stayed at Fairlea, the prison was not fully rebuilt after the fire until 1986, described then by Government as ‘the most modern female prison in Australia’ (George 1999:194).  Women had to be temporarily accommodated at B Annexe, Pentridge during the closure, with some women being transferred to Jika Jika.  Jika Jika was a supermax prison that also held men and was opened in 1982 to house ‘terrorists’ and other significant security and management risks, according to George.  Women sent from Fairlea to B Annexe at Pentridge were seen as the ‘troublesome ones’ and those sent to Jika Jika were perceived as even more problematic.  During the five years in which 35 women were incarcerated at B Annexe five women hanged themselves – the first Victorian women to suicide in prison.  Conditions at B Annexe were dismal. This practice of incarcerating ‘troublesome’ women in men’s facilities apparently continued thereafter – with 12 women being sent to a male psychiatric unit at Pentridge in 1989 after protesting about treatment of a suicidal Aboriginal inmate at Fairlea (George 1999: 193).

Fairlea Research Group

In 1981, the Fairlea Research Group made a submission to the Equal Opportunity Board alleging discrimination against women in prison in the areas of accommodation, health, education/industries, recreation and contact with the outside community. Titled Female and Prisoner: the Double Negative,  the submission included recommendations in relation to the use of dormitories at Fairlea; upgrading of hospital facilities; re-institution of work and study release programs; lack of overarching policy for women; and the transfer of women to Pentridge in 1982, inter alia (Hancock).  The fact that women prisoners could only be accommodated at Fairlea (which was a maximum facility) when male prisoners had a number of possible facilities available to them to correspond with their classification was specifically noted.

Mid 1980s

Women Against Prison Coalition

The Women Against Imprisonment coalition consisted of women who had been working in drug and alcohol services, housing and community legal centres, as well as former inmates.  It was formed in the mid 1980s.  This group established Flat Out – a housing support service for women post-release.  The group served as a lobbying body – making public comment; running community radio shows; producing letters and leaflets; and organising demonstrations (George 1999).


Tarrengower Prison opens

In January 1988 the first and only minimum-security prison for women opened in Victoria.  Originally a farm, it is located near Maldon, 136km north of Melbourne (see further below).  The units at Tarrengower were designed to replicate living conditions of the general community, with self – contained units and inmates taking responsibility for daily activities such as cooking.  It was based on the unit management concept and offered programs specifically designed for women prisoners, including through facilities offereing women extended private visits with family.  Women were provided with a bunkhouse (Accommodation Unit) where they could reside with their family for short visits within the Tarrengower complex (with parenting skills assistance provided).  Community services were provided to prisoners, to enable links to be forged with community (Wynne-Hughes 1988).

Wring Out Fairlea

This was the first large-scale action by the Women’s Coalition Against Imprisonment (constituted by twenty community groups, mainly women’s groups, but also including Aboriginal organisations and refuges) and was held outside Fairlea.  The protest consisted of approximately 1000 people linking hands and trying ‘to create an event that brought people to the prison wall, literally and via media, and to use this focus to educate the community about the issues inside and outside the prison that needed addressing’. Associated with this protest was release of a report by the Fitzroy Legal Centre in 1988 – Women and Imprisonment - which considered underlying social factors (such as homelessness) and law and policy (such as criminalisation of drunkenness) contributing to female imprisonment rates (George 1999; Gow 1994) (see below).

The campaign (1988-1993) led to the establishment of a policy committee by government to consider the needs of female prisoners and raised community awareness about women prisoners (George 1999).

Women and Imprisonment Report – Fitzroy Legal Service

This report examined women’s imprisonment and attributed it to ‘the social construct of society’ and suggested that the institutionalisation of women in a correctional context constitutes violence. The socio-economic position of women and how this contributes to incarceration (through, for instance, time spent in prison for social security fraud); gender-stereotyped attitudes of police and judiciary; lack of services for women exiting prison; suicide; and the particular situation of Aboriginal women, inter alia, were all examined.  Recommendations included establishment of a detoxification unit at Fairlea; decriminalising personal use of heroin; introduction of guidelines to enable consideration of whether social security fraud was motivated by ‘need’ rather than ‘greed’ in deciding whether to prosecute; an increase of social security benefits for supporting parents; a repeal of all offences relating to drunkenness (other than traffic offences of this nature); and that community correction centres organise child care for women (Fitzroy Legal Centre 1988).

Mothers and children program

The program was now available at Fairlea and at Tarrengower, but in 1993 all women caring for children at Fairlea had to be transferred to Tarrengower due to overcrowding at Fairlea.  As Tarrengower was a working farm, mothers were expected to work unless their children were very young.  A family visits centre allowed for overnight stays for spouses/de facto partners and older siblings (DCS 1994: 63)



In 1994-1995 the daily average of women prisoners was 116 compared with a daily average of 2343 male prisoners: women constituting approximately 5% of the total prison population.  Women spent on average five weeks in custody and 48% of those given a custodial sentence were given a sentence of less than 12 months.  Approximately 56% were incarcerated for drug-related or property offences; 34% for violent offences; and 9% for procedural offences (such as breach of parole).  Almost 15% were born in a country where English is not widely spoken (DCS 1996).


Corrections Prisoners and Offenders Interim Steering Committee established

The terms of reference of the Women’s Prisoners and Offenders Interim Steering Committee included participating in development of strategic policy for women offenders and prisoners.  In 1990, the Committee requested a review of current policy in relation to women prisoners and offenders, with a view to identifying issues and options which might be implemented in this area over the following five years.  A discussion paper put together in 1990 by the Department (see below: Agenda for Change) covered a range of issues and made a number of recommendations relating to court-based programs/services pre and post release programs for women, improvement in the collection of relevant data, and the creation of corporate position of Women’s Coordinator within the department, inter alia.

Acacia opens

Acacia, a 10-bed female management unit at Barwon Prison, was opened. This replaced the use of G Division at Pentridge.  G Division was a former psychiatric unit at Pentridge.


Agenda for Change – Office of Corrections

The Women Prisoners and Offenders Advisory Committee reported, as required, to the Director General, Office of Corrections, in 1991.  The report outlined recommendations relating to programs and services for women prisoners and offenders; and specifically recommended policies to be implemented in two stages (according to priority) over the following five years.  Those recommendations included ensuring flexibility in the management of women offenders supervised within the community with care responsibilities; providing for corrections to work with courts, other justice and government agencies and community groups to ensure that female offenders were able to access diversionary options and community-based programs and services; and ensuring provision of appropriate prison-based programs. 

The document also set out information on statistics and trends for female offenders in Victoria; a number of key issues arose during consultation and review. These included women as carers, the practice of locating women prisoners in men’s facilities; lack of data on women prisoners; release preparation programs; and five principles including that women prisoners and offenders must receive equitable access to all diversionary and correctional dispositions and programs, and that women prisoners must be held under the least restrictive conditions appropriate to their needs.  Special need women offender groups were also specifically referred to and recommendations in this context related to issues such as effective communication and a recognition of the Indigenous family structure and how this might impact upon case management. 

Policies earmarked for immediate and priority implementation included the Children’s Access and Residence Program at Fairlea; Community Integration Program (to assist women to reintegrate into their respective communities); and policy to ensure that women accommodated within men’s prisons have equitable access to programs. 


Staff training - women inmates – introduced

A post-primary training course was introduced for any officer who worked with women inmates.  The course aimed to enhance the management skills of those working with women prisoners; to provide them with insight into ‘gender theory’ and an opportunity to reflect upon their own attitudes to women; and to sensitise officers to women inmates’ needs.

Investigation by Equal Opportunity Commissioner into discrimination at Barwon

The Equal Opportunity Commissioner found that women at Barwon were subject to both direct and indirect discrimination. The original complaint related to discrimination in terms of women’s access to their children at Barwon and to educational resources, including the library, and the shop.  The investigation found higher rates of charging of female prisoners than of male prisoners and for less serious incidents. The necessity of strictly segregating women in a male institution meant that women lived in a ‘prison within a prison’, largely in order to assist with controlling the behaviour of men.  Women were ‘effectively confined to their Units.  Their walled compound is their day-to-day world’.  Some restrictions imposed upon both sexes had a disproportionately negative impact upon women (such as not decorating cells – due to the fact that women could not move freely around the prison to the same extent as men).  Other incidents were clearly directly discriminatory – such as prison officers referring to women prisoners as ‘a pack of whores’ or assuming that women were more likely to (be able to) carry contraband (drugs) ‘because of their biological characteristics’ with the result that women visitors and women prisoners were more likely to be strip-searched (Equal Opportunity Commissioner 1992; Office of Corrections 1992).

As a result of this investigation, in July 1993 women held at Barwon Prison were transferred to Fairlea Prison.  This was also undertaken because of a decision by Corrections to close Fairlea and relocate women prisoners to Jika Jika inside Pentridge.  Due to community protests against this closure, Corrections decided against it (see further below).


Corrections – New Prison Project

Corrections introduced the ‘New Prisons Project’ in 1993 to implement private sector involvement in the development of three new prisons, including through replacement of the Fairlea Women’s Prison.

As part of the latter, government had decided to close Fairlea early (see above), and to relocate women to Jika Jika.  Community protests against this decision (including the Save Fairlea and Stop the Move to Jika campaign) included an 8 month (24/7) vigil outside Fairlea and donations of money by unions and churches and petitions.  Prisoners lodged an Equal Opportunity complaint about the move and the Equal Opportunity Commissioner’s attempt to seek an injunction failed (related to the Barwon complaint - see above).  The Commissioner was fired and Equal Opportunity legislation was amended to prevent prisoners from seeking such assistance in future.   Government rescinded its decision to move women to Jika Jika in December 1993 (George 1999).

Media release:


Media related to sacking of Moira Rayner, Equal Opportunity Commissioner:

Herald Sun, 27 October 1993 ‘Rayner out in shake-up’; Age, 27 October 1993 ‘Moira Rayner’s job axed in revamp’; Australian, 27 October 1993, ‘Kennett dumps equality watchdog’.


Study into drug use of women prisoners in Victoria

This study was designed to determine the prevalence of substance abuse among women in prison and factors which contribute to this use; and to present information on the perceptions and experiences of women drug users in prison.  It was hoped that the final report resulting from the research might inform policy and planning in this area and was developed as part of the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse: Research into Drug Abuse Grants.

The report indicated that 61% of women in prison had a pre-arrest substance dependence disorder; that many of these women had experienced discrimination by health professionals and fellow prisoners; that they had received inadequate drug interventions and care during withdrawal or for mental disorders (often coinciding with drug issues); and that more needed to be done (including through appropriate training for health care workers) to address underlying issues relating to the common physical and sexual abuse histories of the women.  More specifically, further research into the use of drugs by Aboriginal women in prison was needed.  Recommendations ranged from diversion of drug users into community-based treatment in preference to prison; development of a comprehensive drug-prevention and treatment strategy for women within Victorian prisons; review of current policy relating to treatment of women with drug issues in police cells; to development of a system for client complaints and training for staff around psychiatric illness.


Women’s Prisons in Victoria – Correctional Policy and Management Standards

These Standards, developed by the Policy Implementation Committee on Women in Corrections, were intended to ensure consistency in policy and standards across all Victorian prisons and were introduced for women in 1995 and men in 1996.  They were based upon the 1994 Standards for Women’s Prisons and the 1991 Agenda for Change.  A major driver for development of the policy was the decision to privatise some prisons in Victoria and to ensure consistency across facilities.

The ‘Policy for Women’s Prisons’ emphasised separate facilities for women; unit management; staff awareness of women’s needs; capacity to accommodate children where appropriate; visiting arrangements supportive of the maintenance of family relationships; collaboration with relevant community agencies in working with women; programs for women; and services directed towards meeting the particular needs of women.

The ‘Management Standards’ lists a number of key areas (such as security, classification, health, and discipline) and identifies respective outcomes, outputs, legislative and policy requirements and relevant guidelines (from the Australian Standard Guidelines for Corrections, for instance) for each area.  So for example, it is expected that women will have access to the same standard of health care as the general community, and that their specific needs as women will also be met through provision of services by a female doctor inter alia.

See 2009 revised Standards below and Office of the Correctional Services Commissioner publication Women Prisoners in Victoria (1996)).


Private prison - Deer Park Metropolitan Women’s Correctional Centre (MWCC)- opens in August and Fairlea Prison closes

The MWCC was the first privately designed, financed, built and operated women’s prison outside of the United States.  Its development constituted part of a newly elected conservative Government’s push to privatise corrections in Victoria (along with other utilities such as gas, water and transport).  Corrections Corporation of Australia was initially given a five-year contract for the MWCC, but the contract was eventually terminated and the prison became a public facility in 2000 (see below).  George claims that the ‘sell-off of prisons…..went hand in hand with a law-and-order climate of mandatory and longer sentences that handed private prison contractors a guarantee of rising prison numbers (and profits)’ (George 1999: 189).   Fulham and Port Phillip correctional centres were also part of the privatisation push.

Prisoners were transferred from Fairlea - which closed in 1996.  At the time of Fairlea’s closure it held 110 women, but 18,000 women had been through the prison and seven women had died in it.  Prior to the opening of Fairlea in 1956, women had been housed with male prisoners.  In the 1980s, Fairlea was the first Australian prison in modern times to allow children to remain with their mothers until they reached school age. 

Media Release:


Review of women’s vocational education programs

The research examined in this project evaluated the outcomes of accredited Technical and Further Education vocational education programs at Fairlea women's prison.  It sought to establish whether vocational training programs increase cognitive skills as well as vocational skills.  It also endeavoured to clarify the extent to which the conclusions of previous research reports on vocational training programs for men can be applied to women prisoners (Semmens 1996).


Disturbance at Metropolitan Women’s Correctional Centre

Eight prisoners armed with planks of wood threatened to riot at the privately run Metropolitan Women’s Prison in Melbourne on 28 April 1997 following an alleged handcuffing of a prisoner after the prisoner had assaulted a member of staff.  The State Emergency Services were allegedly housed at the Centre in a unit that had been a family unit for women to spend time with women and children.  The Services assisted to quell the disturbance.




Study into post-release mortality released

Cook and Davies investigated the causes of 93 deaths of women post-release between 1987 until 1997 as part of a discussion around the inadequacies of the approach of corrections to the needs of female prisoners.  In relation to the 62 of those women about whom they were able to obtain information, they found as follows:

Of the 62 women that we have information about, 45 died of drug related causes.

The overwhelming majority of these women, 41 in all, died directly as a result of drug overdose. The remaining four died from complications arising from a specific instance of drug use. Overt acts of violence, motor vehicle accidents and suicides claimed the lives of fifteen women. One died as a result of stab wounds received during a fight, while three women were murdered or else died at the hands of others in circumstances yet to be ascertained. Five women died in motor vehicle accidents; one was attempting to flee a violent male partner at the time. Six women committed suicide. Notably, only two of the 62 women two died of natural causes

Of the 45 women who died of drug related causes, 6 had died within two days of release, 11 had died within their first 14 days, 13 had died within the first month and 22 had died less than three months after their release. Within 18 months of being released from prison all but 8 of the women had died (Cook & Davies 2000: 4 – 5).

In recent times, the situation in Victoria has changed little in relation to women's post release mortality.  In late 1999, in the space of a mere six weeks seven women died shortly after leaving prison (Cook & Davies 2000: 9).  In 2009-10 post-release mortality once again spiked.

This study influenced correctional policy, leading to development of the WOMEN Pilot Program (see below).

Women Exiting Prison program commences

Support for Women Exiting Prison (SWEP) was established in 1998.  Originally, only a single full-time support worker was employed to provide intensive pre- and post-release support.  Due to high demand, however, staffing had to be increased (Melbourne City Mission 2000: 5-6).  Work undertaken included development of a Pre and Post Release Service Providers Network; and assistance provided to women to stabilise their financial and housing situation, re-establish connections with family and other support, and support them to deal with any drug issues they may have.  In its first two years of operation 244 women were assisted (Melbourne City Mission 2000: 23).  In 2008,SWEP operated a Counselling and Support Project (to assist women to address underlying factors contributing to offending); Short Term Case Management (providing advocacy and support, including referrals); Women’s Community Housing Program; and Women About recreational program (Thomson 2008).  Women exiting prison, in the community (having been incarcerated) and in prison may seek assistance.  SWEP sits alongside Women’s Integrated Support Program (WISP) and Women 4 Work program (see below).


Review into suicide and self-harm – Correctional Services Taskforce

The review was not gender-specific, but noted a trend indicating a higher incidence of self-harm amongst female prisoners, attributed to their ‘higher levels of social and emotional dysfunction than males, a higher incidence of drug abuse (especially with prescription drugs) and (of suffering) physical abuse.’ Thus, the number of incidents of self-harm of female prisoners between 1992-1995 averaged 33 per year; then rose to 52 for the three years 1995/96-1997/98.  During this period (1992-1998) the incidence of self-harm amongst male prisoners declined (Correctional Services Taskforce 1998: 166ff).

Media release:



Statistics [1]

Total number of prisoner in 2008: 4223

  • Males – 3 985
  • Females – 238
  • Proportion of population that is male: 94.4%
  • Proportion of population that is Female: 5.6%
  • Imprisonment rates for males in Victoria (crude) – 199.9
  • Imprisonment rates for Females in Victoria (crude) – 11.4

The majority of women sentenced within the criminal justice system in Victoria were on community-based orders.  As at 20 June 2000, 1132 women were on community based orders in Victoria, compared with 198 females in prison.  There was a problem with women breaching orders.  In September 1999, 56% of women in prison had breached at least one order.  There was also great concern about the number of women dying on orders.  Between January 1999 and January 2000, 15 women on community correctional orders had died, mostly of drug overdoses (Armytage 2000: 6). 

As at 30 June 1999 women were more likely to be in prison for property related offences (35.2%), offences against the person (18.4%) and drug offences (18.4%). Victoria had the lowest rate of imprisonment, including of women, of all jurisdictions.  In June 2000, in Victoria 10 women were in custody per 100,000 compared with comparable figures of 18 in NSW and 35 in Western Australia.  This means that Victoria had a ‘much ‘tougher’, higher risk’ female prison population than other jurisdictions. (Armytage 2000: 6-7).

The Better Pathways strategy, developed by Corrections Victoria in 2005, indicates that the number of women in prison in Victoria has more than doubled over the last decade - at 260 in 2005 compared with just over 100 in mid-1995.  Between 1998 and 2003, women in prison increased by 84% (almost triple the growth of male numbers during the same period).  The rate of imprisonment for women grew from 8.4 to 14.3 per 100,000 of the Victorian adult female population; and from 5.4% to 7.5% of the total prison population in Victoria.  At 30 June 2005, Vietnamese women represented 9.7% of the female prison population (incarcerated commonly for serious drug offences).  The general increase was said to be due to more women being imprisoned for violent offences and drug-related offending, leading more women to serve longer sentences; increased use of remand (especially for women without adequate accommodation and complex treatment and support needs); less use of prison as a ‘last resort’ at sentencing; and more women sentenced to a short term of imprisonment (Corrections Victoria 2005: 6-7).

There had also been an increase in policing of drug related crimes.  The pressures that such increases places upon custodial facilities is discussed in Armytage 2000 (3-4), including the fact that women were being held in police cells awaiting prison beds for up to three weeks.


VACRO study – needs of children and families of prisoners

VACRO commissioned research in relation to the needs of children of imprisoned parents in Victoria, including those incarcerated at Tarrengower and Metropolitan Women’s Correctional Centre.  Interviews were conducted in order to ascertain possible solutions to problems associated with incarceration in this context.   Problems included behavioural changes in children; inadequate visiting arrangements/facilities; worries on behalf of the incarcerated parent that their children may be stigmatised, inter alia.  Implications included an increased likelihood that these children might offend in future; that prison visiting centres are not conducive to maintaining child/parent relationships; that families are often disadvantaged by prison security classification which dictates where a parent must reside; and that many children are prevented from visiting due to conflict within families.  Recommendations suggested that VACRO ought to work with the Department of Justice ‘with a view to… shifting the paradigm of prisons from care of the prisoner alone, to care of the prisoner and his/her family’.  Possible strategies might be directed towards ensuring contact is maintained between family members in placing prisoners; developing programs for children who stay with their parents in prison; and expanding pre- and post-release programs that support the relationship between parents and children, inter alia (see further VACRO study below) (VACRO 2000).

WOMEN Pilot Program

This program was designed specifically for women with drug and alcohol issues.  The program was a nine-week program attached at a special condition to a Community Based or Parole Order.  It provided support by way of intensive supervision, drug and alcohol assessment and treatment, community work, and personal development programs (Allegretti 2000).

State Government-appointed administrator takes over MWCC ownership and management

Metropolitan Women’s Correctional Centre had been privately run (see above).  It is now run by Corrections Victoria and called the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre (see below).

Serious difficulties had arisen with respect to management of the facility, which impacted negatively upon prison conditions.  Thus, the Government used emergency powers under the Corrections Act to take over management of the facility in 2000.  ‘Difficulties’ included the worst levels of illicit drug use and the highest levels of drug overdose across Victorian prisons.  Between August 1999 to August 2000 45.83% of all prison overdoses in Victoria occurred there (Armytage 2000: 11).  A report was prepared by the Corrective Services Commissioner indicating that there were significant levels of self-harm, prisoner violence and prisoner assaults on officers in the MWCC and that the private operator had failed to develop adequate suicide prevention procedures. One Indigenous woman with a disability had suicided after a help button failed to operate in her cell.  Further, women had been tear gassed twice in three months in 1999, and 29% of women were being kept on protection (Corrective Services Commissioner 2000; see also George 1999).  The Government allegedly did nothing over a period of four years in the face of recurring problems at the MWCC relating to self-injury, assaults amongst inmates, at risk assessments, children’s issues, medication levels and the misreporting of incidents by the prison.  The prison had been from the start an ‘abject failure’ (George 2000; see also Department of Justice (2000-2001) Annual Report: 40).


‘A Death Undeserved. Cheryl Black is dead. Does anyone care?’ David Elias, The Age 12 April 1997 p. A19

‘Women Gassed in Prison’, Amanda George, The Republican May 30 1997 p.1

Media release:



Thomas Embling Hospital opens with designated women’s beds

The hospital for offenders with mental health issues, operated by Forensicare Mental Health in Victoria, was opened to accommodate 120 people and had a special unit of 10 beds for women. Patients of the hospital were to include prisoners who had become seriously mentally ill and required transfer from prison as well as those found not guilty or unfit to plead by virtue of mental impairment who came directly from court. It had two overarching aims - to provide mental health care to prisoners with serious mental illnesses and those found mentally impaired by the courts, and to contribute to community safety.




Additional portable cell-blocks added to Dame Phyllis Frost to deal with rising numbers

Considered an ‘innovative Australian first’, a 50-bed re-locatable cell block was transported to Dame Phyllis Frost in order to remove female prisoners from overcrowded police cells.  It was essentially a remand unit.  Further, government announced development of a new 50-bed permanent, multi-purpose unit at the Centre.




Study – substance abuse and trauma at Dame Phyllis Frost   

The study, commissioned by CORE (the public sector correctional body), considered the relationship between ‘high rates of trauma in the backgrounds of female prisoners, particularly of childhood physical emotional and sexual abuse, poor coping and significant trauma symptoms’ for women prisoners at Dame Phyllis Frost. The data suggests a possible link between these experiences and the use of drugs and medication to cope with trauma symptoms’ (Pollard  & Baker 2000).

Correctional Services Commissioner review of strip-searching of women

Female prisoners complained of an increase in strip-searching of inmates following the government takeover of Deer Park.  Complaints related to removal of tampons during the searches, in particular, and the practice of strip-searching twice for each contact visit (before and after the visit).  The Commissioner established an inquiry into strip search procedures and practice at both Tarrengower and MWCC.  The review found that all staff charged with responsibility for carrying out strip-searching acted appropriately and complied with procedural requirements related to this action.  However, these ‘positive results’ were ‘offset’ by findings that there was some lack of clarity and inconsistency in relation to protocol for removal of tampons, inter alia.  Thus, the review concluded that there were compliance issues at both facilities, requiring further training and ongoing monitoring of relevant procedures (Office of the Correctional Services Commissioner 2001).


Women 4 Work program commences

The Women 4 Work program was first funded by Corrections Victoria in 2002 and continues to be funded by government.  It operates at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre and Tarrengower, assists women leaving prison or on a community correctional order, and is directed towards assisting women within the correctional system to gain employment through intervention in areas such as accommodation and ‘lifestyle choices’ (Thomson & Chudiak 2009).  It has an Indigenous-specific focus (Department of Justice 2006/07 Annual Report).  Women are assisted with job search training; are able to access vocational training; and are supported to maintain employment.  The 2009 evaluation of Better Pathways indicated that the program had been successful (see below). This program was also recognised with an Australian Crime and Violence Prevention Award in 2008. [2]

For further information, go to:


Aboriginal women’s mentoring program established

This program was set up as part of the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement (2000) and offers women on community-based orders both a flexible model of supervision and mentoring and support from Indigenous Elders.  It aims to reduce re-offending and improve order completion rates.


Review of education and training in Victorian Prisons

This independent review of education and training throughout all prisons, commissioned by the Victorian Correctional Services Commissioner, gave rise to 29 recommendations.  Without a specific emphasis upon female prisoners, the review however did note that female prisoners’ needs ought to be taken into account in developing an assessment tool to be used to determine the educational and training needs of prisoners (Recommendation 13). There is a brief overview of gender differences in an educational and training context between men and women (for instance, women prisoners were more likely to be willing to undertake training post-release and less likely to have completed an apprenticeship). There was also some comment made by prisoners participating in the review that women prisoners had lesser access to programs than male prisoners (134).

(See Spark and Harris 2005: criticising emphasis upon vocational training (in lieu of training for women around self-esteem and parenting skills, for instance) in terms of meeting needs of female prisoners)

Inter-departmental committee established to reduce women’s offending

The Reducing Women’s Offending Inter-departmental Committee (IDC) was set up in July 2003 to guide the development of the Better Pathways strategy (see below). Corrections Victoria chaired the Committee, and membership included representatives from the departments of Justice, Human Services, Victorian Communities, Education and Training, Premier and Cabinet, and Treasury and Finance.

Women’s Correctional Services Advisory Committee established by Minister for Corrections [3]

In 2003, the Minister for Corrections set up the Women’s Correctional Services Advisory Committee to ‘provide an external source of expert advice on the delivery of correctional services to women’.  It is chaired by relevant members of Parliament and consists of 14 non-government members with a range of experience and expertise in the areas of program development, service delivery, advocacy, management, research and academia relevant to women's corrections.

Prior to the establishment of this Advisory Committee, the voluntary Victorian Women's Prisons Council (established in 1953 by Dame Phyllis Frost and formally dismantled in 2002) advocated on behalf of female prisoners.

The Committee provides: advice to the Minister for Corrections on strategic directions and service requirements for women in the Victorian correctional services system; to provide input into the development of policy; and a forum for discussion of ongoing issues that arise in relation to women in the correctional services system, inter alia.  Key achievements to date include developing the Mothers and Children Program Policy; initiating the Mothers and Children Program Support Worker role; and input (non-government) into Better Pathways, Women’s Correctional Framework and Correctional Management Standards for women.

Victorian Prisoner Health Study

The Victorian Prisoner Health Study 2003 was the first health survey of Victorian prisoners.  It drew on the NSW Prison Health Survey.  The Study shows prisoners as an ‘extraordinarily needy, unhealthy, and life-damaged cohort’ (Deloitte 2003: 1)

Findings included the following:

  • Whilst 28% of the prison population indicated that they had been told that they had a mental illness, Aboriginal people had frequently not been told that they had an illness.  Only one out of thirteen Aboriginal women had been so advised.   

  • Around 15% of the prisoners questioned reported that they were currently receiving medication. The percentage was lowest for Aboriginal females and the highest for non-aboriginal females.

  • Major depression occurs in about 20% of the prisoner population, with higher rates for non-Aboriginal people and, in particular, non-Aboriginal women.

  • The percentage of participants reporting that they had attempted suicide varied somewhat by race and gender.  Aboriginal males and females were equally likely to have attempted suicide (about 30%); whereas, non-Aboriginal women were significantly more likely (35.9%) to have attempted suicide than non-Aboriginal men (25.6%).

  • Aboriginal women showed significantly higher rates of self harm.

Broadly, the Study recommended that DOJ and DHS should cooperate to develop and deliver relevant programs that target the most damaging behaviours and conditions in the prison demographic.  Recommendations that related to women specifically advised that there ought to be further study into the relationship for women between early life experience of abuse and ‘subsequent life difficulties in life management’; and that special consideration (by DOJ and DHS) ought to be given to the needs of women who have endured sexual and emotional abuse. The Study indicated as follows:

The evidence on depression, rates of suicidal thoughts, and actual self-harm supports provision of appropriate mental health services in prisons.  The Department should note the extraordinary level of need in relation to mental health services, and ensure that these are appropriately focused upon and resourced (Deloitte 2003: 110).

Available at


Review of community-based programs for women offenders

Corrections engaged a private consult to review community-based programs for women offenders.  The review found that although Victoria had ‘enhanced the level of gender responsivity’ in some community corrections programs, these had occurred ‘in the absence of a clear policy commitment and unifying policy principles’.  It advocated for targeting non-criminogenic needs of women prior to their criminogenic needs.  Programs should ideally be, according to the review, holistic and integrated, addressing multiple needs simultaneously.  They should develop inmate/staff relationships; and acknowledge the common primary caregiving role of women (Ward 2003).


Women’s Mentoring Program commences

Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders’ (VACRO) Women’s Mentoring Program offers women exiting prison or on Community Corrections orders assistance through a volunteer mentor with the transition back into the community.  The program was initially funded through philanthropic means, and later funded by Corrections Victoria.  It is claimed that the program has contributed to reduced recidivism rates in Victoria, is the only program of its kind in Victoria, and has been used as a model for a similar program in South Australia developed by the Offenders Aid and Rehabilitation Services of South Australia (OARS). It has also won a number of awards, including a Victorian Community Safety Crime Prevention Award in 2005. [4]

The University of Melbourne evaluated the program in 2008.  Although it was found to work well in some circumstances, in others where women participants had extensive drug and alcohol problems or ‘other types of chaotic post release lifestyles’ mentoring became ‘both unmanageable and irrelevant’.  A number of elements were also identified as improving transition post-release.  These included housing, mental and financial stability; resilience; and genuine opportunities to engage in study, employment or volunteering (Ross et al: 2008).


Better Pathways: An Integrated Response to Women's Offending and Re-offending released by Dept of Justice 2005-2009

Better Pathways was developed as a four-year strategy to address rates of women’s imprisonment.  It had four broad aims – to reduce the number of women who offend, who enter prison custody, and who re-offend, as well as rates of victimisation.  The strategy sets out rising incarceration rates for women (see above).  Issues dealt with (relating to offending) include housing, education and training, employment, children and family ties, substance abuse and mental health.  Proposals include policy development, program and service delivery, infrastructure projects, workforce training and development, and research (see also Women’s Correctional Services Framework below).

The Strategy set out 37 initiatives directed towards achieving these goals - 28 were ‘strategy deliverables’ to be implemented over the four years (Reducing Women’s Imprisonment Action Plan) and 9 are proposed ‘future directions’ for action over the medium to longer term.  Initiatives included additional transitional housing for women on bail, including Indigenous women; specialist sexual assault counselling, advocacy and support for women prisoners; upgrades to facilities; a policy framework to guide delivery of women’s correctional services; and an extension of post-release support for women.

Progress to date includes introduction of a Multicultural Liaison Officer to work with women prisoners; dedicating ten metropolitan transitional bail properties for women participating in the Transitional Bail Support Program; and 24 hours per week of sexual assault counselling and support provided to women in prison (see Corrections Victoria 2007a; EOCV 2006b).


Multicultural Liaison Officer appointed

As part of the Better Pathways strategy, a Multicultural Liaison Officer was appointed to case manage, support and advocate on behalf of women from CALD backgrounds.  The MLO facilitates women’s access to prison programs and services, supports communication between prisoners, their families and communities, and promotes awareness of and cultural sensitivity to issues affecting CALD women.

Request for review of discrimination against female prisoners

The Victorian Council of Social Services (VCOSS) and the Federation of Community Legal Centres requested that the Equal Opportunity Commission of Victoria (EOCV) investigate discrimination on the basis of gender/sex, race, ethnicity and religion, and cognitive impairment faced by women throughout the Victorian prison system (Federation of Community Legal Centres 2005 (see also VALS 2005; Smart Justice 2006)).

The allegations of discrimination related to classification, access to health services and programs, strip searching/disciplinary practices, and access to conditional and community release.  For 80% of women prisoners, their classification makes no difference as they are automatically incarcerated at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre regardless of their classification.  Women were allegedly charged at five times the rate of male prisoners for assault-related incidents.  Instruments of restraint (such as handcuffs and leg shackles) were used at Dame Phyllis Frost on 53 occasions (population 203) but at Barwon (men’s prison) on only 3 occasions (population 302) in 2002.  Similarly, at Dame Phyllis Frost in 2001-2 there were 18,889 strip searches (with only one item of contraband found) and at Barwon 12,893 searches (and 21 items found).

The EOCV ultimately declined to investigate.

For submission, go to:



Ombudsman’s investigation into conditions for persons in custody

This Ombudsman’s Report is wide-ranging, but does include reference to issues of particular significance to women; including classification and the lack of options for medium-security female prisoners, strip-searching and its disproportionate impact upon women prisoners; and the vulnerability of women held in police cells.

Report at:


VACRO/Flat Out study into effects of incarceration upon children – policy/legislative context

This study involved interviews with adults involved with prisoners’ children (including arresting police officers, mother’s solicitors, judges and mothers themselves) (see also VACRO study (2000) above).  It sought to advocate for greater consideration of the needs of children within court processes, legislation and policy.  According to the VACRO/Flat Out, perhaps 4000 children are affected by their parents’ incarceration at any time, a figure that has increased over time as women’s imprisonment has increased.  Procedures around arrest, bail/remand, and sentencing were examined in terms of the extent to which they placed any emphasis upon the needs of children.  The lack of emphasis, as stated, was said to lead to the abandonment, in some instances, of children following their mothers’ arrest.

In 2007, VACRO published an Action Paper: Children: Unintended victims of legal processes, recommending steps such as a review of the Bail Act to ensure better consideration of children’s needs and the position of primary carers; development of protocols within courts so that dependent children are protected throughout adult criminal proceedings; and identification of primary carer’s needs in all pre- and post-release planning.

Paper and media available at:


EOCV declines to consider inquiry into women in prisons in Victoria

The EOCV declined to formally inquire into the discrimination against women in prison, claiming that Corrections Victoria (CV) had ‘embarked on a range of initiatives that aim to improve the delivery of correctional services to women, and that a ‘collaborative approach between CV and the Commission toward the development and implementation of an audit tool would be potentially more effective in tackling any policies, practices or facilities that may systemically discriminate against women prisoners.’ (EOCV 2006: 40).  It was suggested that such an audit could be conducted through the Better Pathways strategy (see above) by incorporating anti-discrimination standards into the framework to ‘guide the development and delivery of correctional services for women.’  EOCV would assist in developing such standards and monitoring implementation of the audit.

Women’s Integrated Support Program commences (WISP)

Women’s Integrated Support Program (WISP) commenced in 2006 and is for women leaving prison.  It is a Better Pathways initiative.  It consists of a merger of employment, housing and substance abuse programs into integrated support programs for women prisoners and offers pre- and post-release case management to women exiting prison (Department of Justice 2006/07 Annual Report).  It is directed towards assisting ‘women to resettle into the community, within a framework of addressing needs, achieving goals and reducing re-offending’.  Services offered include linkages to education and training; support with financial management, parenting skills, legal and court issues; and access to long-term housing.  To be eligible, women must be in custody/have been sentenced; at moderate or high risk of re-offending; have high and complex support needs; and demonstrate a willingness to participate.  This program was recognised with an Australian Crime and Violence Prevention Award in 2008. [5]

For further information, go to:




Better Pathways in Practice - Women’s Correctional Services Framework

Better Pathways in Practice: Women’s Correctional Services Framework is the policy statement attached to the Better Pathways strategy (see above).  The Department suggests that the Framework will assist in meeting the aims of the Better Pathways strategy by ‘enhancing the gender responsivity of Victoria’s correctional system, to reduce the risk of re-offending among women prisoners and offenders’.  It aims to ‘articulate an overarching approach to the development and delivery of correctional services for women, in order to sustain these and other developments over the longer term’ (EOCV 2006b: 3)

The policy document contains a mission statement; guiding principles (for instance, creating opportunities and responding to diversity); operational objectives (such as providing appropriate programs for women); and a work plan for priority projects containing 30 projects directed towards meeting relevant goals and classified under one of the four key themes set out in Better Pathways.  The rationale, outputs and outcomes of each activity are set out.  Activities include, for instance, establishing a health and well-being centre at Dame Phyllis Frost centre.

An independent evaluation of the strategy completed in 2009 found that it had contributed to a reduction in female imprisonment, that the responsiveness of the corrections system had been improved as had access to services.  The number of female prisoners in Victoria had decreased by 15.3%, and programs singled out for praise by the evaluator include the transitional housing initiative assisting women to meet bail conditions.   Programs specifically developed for women (rather than serving simply as an adaptation of male programs) were effective, including the Child Care and Transport Subsidy (assisting women to meet the requirements of parole and community correctional orders). [6]   Access to services has been improved through initiatives such as the Vietnamese Liaison officer; the Marrmak unit (providing access to mental health services and reducing transfers to Thomas Embling).  Reduced recidivism has been achieved through programs such as WISP and Women 4 Work, although a lack of available data was said to impact upon capacity to evaluate (see above).



Victorian Law Reform Commission’s review of bail legislationVictorian Law Reform Commission review of bail

The VLRC’s review of bail included comment and recommendations dealing with women as a ‘marginalised group’.  In particular, and after public consultation, the Commission recommended that a woman’s responsibilities as primary carer should to be taken into account as a factor in bail decision-making (in terms of assessments made in relation to risk including risk of non-appearance and in setting conditions).  Further, there ought to be greater provision of supported accommodation for women on bail or in order to divert women with children from remand; and police should be obligated to make inquiries of an accused person to ascertain whether they are a primary carer and to make necessary arrangements for care of any children.  Women from CALD backgrounds ought to be provided with support to avoid breaching bail or missing out on bail.

Review available at:


Marrmak Integrated Mental Health Unit opens

The Marrmak unit was opened at Dame Phyllis Frost as part of the Better Pathways strategy.  A 20-bed unit, it offers to women prisoners specialist mental health services through in-patient unit and out-patient, outreach, consultancy and training services.

Problem Gambling Program for Vietnamese Women

This program ??

Victorian Council of Social Services, Request for a systemic review of Discrimination of Women in Victorian Prisons ttp://www.vcoss.org.au/pubs/reports.htm  

Ombudsman’s investigation into contraband at Dame Phyllis Frost

The Ombudsman initiated an investigation (on the basis of allegations raised by Dame Phyllis Frost staff) in relation to search and seizure procedures and the receipt, recording and disposal of contraband, including illicit drugs.  Officers had indicated that searches of cells were not taking place, although they had been recorded as being completed; and that there were inadequate procedures relating to recording of seized contraband.

The Ombudsman found that contraband was present at the Centre, and recommended certain actions such as criminal record vetting of all staff (particularly necessary where children might be accommodated in a facility); a review of storage arrangements for contraband upon confiscation; and review of Corrections’ search and drug-testing procedures at the Centre (ensuring that it was random).

Report available at



Mothers and Children Program policy

This revision of the earlier ‘Children in Prison’ program sets out detail in relation to the full time residential program for mothers and children, but also notes other programs for mothers (such as residential visits at Tarrengower which extends beyond normal visiting hours and which is unsupervised; Video Visits; or the Family Ties (Primary Care Giver) Permit where an eligible mother can visit a child within the community).  It is also noted that the 84% increase in female prisoner numbers between 1998-2003 has meant that there are greater numbers of applications for children to reside with incarcerated mothers.

Section 31 (1) of the Corrections Act states that a prisoner’s child may be permitted to live with the prisoner if the Secretary is satisfied that:

  1. it is in the best interests of the child to live with his or her parent in the prison; and

  2. the management good order or security of the prison will not be threatened by the child living in prison.

Regulation 43 of the Corrections Regulations 2009 places the onus for the child’s safety and welfare whilst in custody, on the imprisoned primary carer.  The primary carer must sign an agreement to this effect.

The policy contains a set of principles; the role of the Mothers and Children Steering Committee (which processes applications under the program); information on program eligibility; a program overview; detail relating to procedures connected with child-birthing in custody, educational and other programs available to mothers whilst on the program, and maintaining linkages between children in custody and the community.

Revised Correctional Management Standards – Women on Community Correctional Orders

The Correctional Management Standards for CCS was originally developed in 1997, but reviewed in 2007.  In 2009, a document designed to guide best practice in terms of service provision for women within community corrections was introduced.  Guiding principles include the following:

  • strengthening relationships and promoting healthy connections with children, family and friends, correctional practitioners and community based networks;

  • addressing varied and complex needs through a holistic response which takes account of individual needs and linkages between substance abuse, trauma and mental health;
  • providing safety and respect and fostering of self-esteem;
  • creating opportunities by offering meaningful choices and encouraging individual control to overcome disadvantage;
  • supporting continuity by adopting a coordinated approach through inter-agency partnerships and post-release support;
  • responding to diversity; and
  • informed by best practice, relying on knowledge and research and on proper monitoring and evaluation

The Department has suggested that the Standards provide for a ‘differential response to the needs of women’.  Specific strategies contained therein include assisting women to transition back to the community through providing appropriate reintegration programs; providing opportunities to women to make reparation through suitable community worksites, taking into account their role as primary caregivers; and utilising programs to assist women to comply with orders.  Key areas covered include offender management; transitional care; specific offender groups; and assessment and advice.

Document available at:




Dame Phyllis Frost Centre (formerly Deer Park Metropolitan Women’s Correctional Centre) [7]

The prison facility, originally known as the Deer Park Metropolitan Women's Correctional Centre (MWCC), opened on 15 August 1996 and received its first prisoners that same month. It was the first privately designed, financed, built and operated prison in Victoria.
 On 3 October 2000, the government took control of the facility and appointed an administrator under section 8F of the Corrections Act, and section 27B of the prison contract to operate the prison.  On 2 November 2000, the Minister for Corrections announced the transfer of ownership and management of MWCC to the public sector.
 It is now being managed and operated by Corrections Victoria and is called the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, after the well-known campaigner for women prisoners.

The Dame Phyllis Frost Centre (DPFC) provides maximum security, medium security and specialist accommodation for remanded and sentenced women prisoners. A maximum security prison, it is operated by Corrections Victoria and has capacity for 260 prisoners, housed in single cells with ensuite facilities; self-contained units; and two special cell blocks housing 20 prisoners each designed for protection prisoners and prisoners with a history of poor behaviour.  Medium security units house ten prisoners in separate rooms while minimum security units house only five prisoners. Each unit has individual kitchen and dining facilities and prisoners are required to cook and prepare their own meals and do their own washing, ironing and housework.  Groups of prisoners share activity areas, and a quiet area for reading and writing.  It houses 82% of all Victorian women in prison.

Under the 2005-09 strategy, Better Pathways: An Integrated Response to Women's Offending and Re-offending, (see above) the Medical Centre, Visitors' Centre, Education facility and Prison Industries facility were being extended and modified. There was to be new buildings for intensive support, programs and staff amenities.  The Marrmak Integrated Mental Health Unit, for instance, was opened in 2007 to assist prisoners with mental health issues. [8]

The Ombudsman has criticised the fact that Victoria only has a maximum and minimum security facility (Tarrengower and Dame Phyllis Frost).  There are no medium security facilities and women classified as such have to be accommodated at Dame Phyllis Frost.  Whilst the latter has the facilities to do this, the Ombudsman questions whether this is the best thing for those prisoners in terms of their ‘well-being, including their eventual reintegration into the community’ (Ombudsman Victoria 2006: 74).  As at March 2010, 40 new cells were added.

Tarrengower Prison – 136 km North of Melbourne

Tarrengower is the only minimum-security female prison in Victoria.  It is situated 136km north of Melbourne, 2.5km from the Maldon township.

It has an emphasis upon release preparation and community integration.  It can house 54 women in ten self-contained units providing single room accommodation, with shared kitchen and living areas in each unit.  Originally a farm, the prison was opened in January 1988 after the property was purchased and accommodation units were built.

As at March 2010, 20 new cells were to be added to Tarrengower.




Fairlea Women’s prison

Fairlea Women’s Prison was opened in 1956 in Fairfield and closed in 1996.  For history, see above.


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[1] Statistics from 1999-2009 on DCS website by year: http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/DOJ+Internet/Home/Prisons/Research+and+Statistics/JUSTICE+-+Statistical+Profile+of+the+Victorian+Prison+System+%28PDF%29

[2] Information from VACRO website at:


[3] The following details are sourced from the Corrections Victoria website – go to http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/justlib/DOJ+Internet/Home/Prisons/

[4] Information from the VACRO website at http://www.vacro.org.au/Justice_System_Services/Womens_Services/Womens_M...

[5] Information from VACRO website at:


[6] For further information on this program, go to the VACRO website at: http://www.vacro.org.au/ccats/

[7] Information on Department of Justice (VIC) website at http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/DOJ+Internet/Home/Prisons/...

[8] http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/DOJ+Internet/Home/Prisons/...