Indigenous women's offending patterns: A literature review


This report is a literature review on Indigenous women’s offending patterns and therefore provides an important contribution to understanding an often neglected area of criminal justice. The report presents information on Indigenous women as offenders and prisoners, as well as considering the issue of over-policing, including for juvenile Indigenous females. Data are also presented on community corrections and periodic detention and the under-utilisation of juvenile diversion.

The majority of information in the report relates to Indigenous women as prisoners, including information on imprisonment rates and numbers. Significantly, the rate of imprisonment of Indigenous women across Australia rose from 346 to 369 per 100,000 between 2006 and June 2009. In addition, Indigenous women outnumbered Indigenous men as a proportion of the relevant prison population in almost all jurisdictions.

Indigenous women generally serve shorter sentences than their non-Indigenous counterparts, which suggests that Indigenous women are being imprisoned for more minor offences, especially public order offences. Indigenous women are also more likely to be on remand than non-Indigenous women.

The characteristics of Indigenous female prisoners are considered in this report, with particular reference to the comparatively high rates of hospital admissions for mental disorders and post-release mortality rates. Examination of Indigenous women’s role as mothers and carers highlights the need for further research and relevant services.

Policing, court and corrections data provide an overview of the types of offences committed by Indigenous women, with particular reference to the offences of public drunkenness, assault and homicide. The relationship between Indigenous women’s offending patterns and their exposure to family violence is explored and highlights the need for further examination.


This report is based on research undertaken on behalf of the Criminology Research Council. The author would like to thank the Council, Matthew Willis, Professor Chris Cunneen and Dr Adam Tomison for their input into the research contained in this report. The assistance of the Western Australian Department of Justice in providing unpublished data is also gratefully acknowledged.