Department of Family and Community Services

4.2 Women in prison

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Sentenced and unsentenced prisoners in NSW correctional centres

Current position 

In NSW as at 30 June 2012, 7 percent of prisoners in NSW correctional centres were women (668), and 93 percent were men (8,998).

The imprisonment rate in 2012 for women in NSW was 23 per 100,000 of the population, compared to 325 per 100,000 of the population for men.

Gender gap

  • The imprisonment rate for women in NSW is 14 times lower than for men.
The direction of
change over time

In the 30 years between 1982 and 2012, the relative proportions of women and men in the prisoner population in NSW have remained relatively stable, ranging between 4 and 7 percent for women, and 93 and 96 percent for men. There has been a slight upward trend in the proportion of prisoners who are women, rising by 3 percentage points in this period.

In the period 2002 to 2012, comparative imprisonment rates for women and men in NSW peaked in 2009 (31 per 100,000 for women and 384 per 100,000 for men), but have been trending down since then. See Figure 6.10.


Growth in prisoner numbers – NSW compared to Australia

Nationally, the number of female prisoners is growing at a faster rate than that of male prisoners, rising by 48 percent between 2002 and 2012, compared to 29 percent for men over the same period. This is not reflected in NSW, where female and male prisoner numbers have risen by an identical amount of 10 percent over this 10-year period.

Over-representation of Aboriginal people

Aboriginal people are significantly over-represented in NSW prisons. Aboriginal women account for 29 percent of female prisoners in full-time custody, while Aboriginal men account for 23 percent of male prisoners in full-time custody.

Most serious offence

In 2012, the highest proportion of women prisoners were imprisoned for illicit drug offences (23 percent) and the second highest for acts intended to cause injury (13 percent).

Prior imprisonment

Female prisoners are significantly less likely to have had a prior period of imprisonment than male prisoners. In June 2012, 35 percent of female adult prisoners had never been imprisoned before, compared to 26 percent of adult male prisoners.

Sentence length

Women are more likely than men to be imprisoned for shorter periods. 18 percent of women prisoners are sentenced for less than nine months, compared to 9 percent of male prisoners. More than one-quarter (28 percent) of female prisoners are sentenced to less than one year, compared to 15 percent of male prisoners.

Who cares for the children of prisoners?

While their father is in prison, the children of male prisoners are most likely to be cared for by their mother (84 percent). By contrast, only 28 percent of children of female prisoners are likely to be cared for by their father while their mother is in prison. A greater percentage is cared for by grandparents (34 percent), and 12 percent are cared for by other relatives.

The NSW Inmate Census 2012 presents statistics on prisoners managed by the NSW Department of Corrective Services who were held in fulltime custody in NSW as at midnight on 30 June 2012, and inmates with a ‘live’ order for periodic detention as at 30 June 2012. Prisoners held at Kariong Juvenile Correctional Centre are also included (21 prisoners as at 30 June 2012). Offenders (released) in non-custodial community residential facilities, such as Community Offender Support Program Centres, are excluded.

The ABS Prisoners in Australia survey, which is the source for data on imprisonment rate and growth in prisoner numbers (NSW compared to Australia), is almost identical in scope to the NSW Inmate Census, except that it excludes prisoners held at Kariong Juvenile Correctional Centre, regardless of age.

Year collected: 30 June 2012.
Data source: Corrective Services NSW (2013) NSW Inmate Census 2012. ABS (2013) Prisoners in Australia, 2012, Cat no. 4517.0, for data on NSW imprisonment rate between 2002 and 2012 and growth in prisoner numbers nationally. Corrective Services NSW (2011), Children of Parents in Custody: Facts and Figures, for data on who cares for the children of prisoners. More information is available at;

Figure 6.10 Imprisonment rate by sex, NSW, 2002-12

Fig 6.10

Note: Data relates to rate of imprisonment per 100,000 of the population. Imprisonment rates are calculated by the ABS using the estimated resident population for NSW based on the 2011 Census.
Population: Women and men in custody in NSW as at 30 June 2012, excluding prisoners at Kariong Juvenile Correctional Centre (21 prisoners). See above for details.
Source: ABS (2013) Prisoners in Australia, 2012, Cat no. 4517.0.