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Recidivism rates

ATSISJC has noted that a 'significant factor among the Indigenous female prisoner population is the high rate of recidivism', with data indicating that 76 percent of all Indigenous prisoners had been previously imprisoned (ATSISJC 2002: 140). Data from New South Wales indicated that Indigenous women were more likely to have previously been imprisoned (85% vs 71%); 98 percent of surveyed female Indigenous prisoners had a previous conviction as an adult and over one-quarter (26%) had 15 or more prior convictions. In addition, 60 percent had prior juvenile convictions, and over 36 percent had received their first such conviction while aged 11–12 years (Lawrie 2002).

The ATSISJC report also cited the preliminary findings of a Victorian study which found a reoffending rate of 71 percent among Indigenous women, compared to an average rate of 61 percent for non-Indigenous women (ATSISJC 2002). Data from earlier CRC-funded research indicated a recidivism rate of 75 percent for Indigenous women in Western Australia, compared with 29 percent for non-Indigenous women and an earlier return to custody (16 vs 19 months; Broadhurst et al. 1988).

As the ATSISJC (2002: 141) report notes:

Statistics in relation to previous offending are a useful indication of a prison's achievements in rehabilitating offenders and these figures suggest a need to focus on the women prisoners' offending and background with a view to effective interventions. Development and support of effective programs for Indigenous women is clearly a priority to reduce rates of re-offending...

The pattern of recidivism or repeat offending contributes to the trend of increasing over-representation of Indigenous women. Investigation of the causes and conditions which place Indigenous women at risk of repeated imprisonment is a pressing concern.

It is also relevant to note NSW data showing that 15 percent of Indigenous females imprisoned in 2001 had been given a custodial sentence more than three times in the five years prior to their first custodial penalty in 2001 (Weatherburn, Lind & Hua 2003). It should also be noted that Indigenous female juveniles cautioned in 2006 in Western Australia were more likely to have multiple matters; 53 percent had only one matter, compared with 81 percent of non-Indigenous juveniles. Furthermore, 13 percent had four or more cautions, compared with three percent of non-Indigenous juveniles (Fernandez et al. 2009).

Table 15 sets out the most recent ABS data on the proportion of female prisoners who have had prior adult imprisonment, by jurisdiction. Excluding the Australian Capital Territory, where the numbers were too small to be meaningful (n=3) and with the exception of South Australia, where the pattern was similar to non-Indigenous prisoners, the majority of Indigenous female prisoners in each jurisdiction have had prior experience of imprisonment. The proportion who had experienced previous imprisonment was higher for both male and female Indigenous prisoners in all jurisdictions (SCRCSP 2009b). Notably, however, the figures for all female prisoners have decreased since 1999, from 44 percent to 38 percent for non-Indigenous women and 69 percent to 63 percent for Indigenous women (see Cameron 2001).

Table 15: Prior adult imprisonment of female prisoners by jurisdiction and Indigenous status, 2007–08
Indigenous—% prior adult prisonNon-Indigenous—% prior adult prison
NSW 65.5 37.4
Vic 73.3 45.7
Qld 67 40.6
SA 39.3 35.6
WA 63.1 25.6
Tas 66.7 44.4
NT 50.0 0
ACT 100.0 45.5
Aust 63.3 38.3

Source: ABS 2008