Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in Australian prisons

Dr Hilde Tubex1 Dorinda Cox

1UWA Law School, Crawley, Australia,

The increasing imprisonment rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is a serious matter of concern, as imprisonment not only impacts women’s lives, but also affects the lives of the children and family they care for, and the communities they come from. Therefore, Aboriginal female imprisonment is not a matter of numbers, it is a matter of impact. Aboriginal women have specific social and cultural obligations, which cannot be replaced by others, resulting in gaps in the social structures of affected communities, causing intergenerational trauma, which can lead to further and ongoing contact with the criminal legal system. Understanding the increase of Aboriginal women in prison is challenging due to a lack of publicly available national data addressing the intersection between gender and Indigenous status. In this contribution we will provide an overview of the fragmented datasets available about Aboriginal women’s imprisonment. Even though these datasets are fragmented, they do give us an indication about the reasons why so many Aboriginal women find themselves in prison, and are returning to prison. Of particular concern is the increase of the numbers of Aboriginal women who are sentenced for ‘acts intended to cause injury’ – indicating a growing involvement of these women in violent behaviour. However, to understand Aboriginal women’s use of violence, we have to look at this behaviour in the broader context of the ongoing effect of settler-colonisation and its links to family violence and intergenerational trauma. We will argue that we have to shift focus from women as ‘offenders’ to an understanding of the broader context in which this behaviour takes place, which will enable us to develop grass-roots support networks addressing this concerning trend.


Hilde Tubex is Associate Professor at the Law School of the University of Western Australia. She teaches an undergraduate course on ‘Crime, Justice and Public Policy’ at the University of Western Australia. Her areas of expertise are comparative criminology and penal policy, Indigenous peoples and the criminal justice system.

Dorinda Cox is an Aboriginal (Noongar) Women recognised for her leadership qualities and ongoing contributions in Western Australia. She has skills and experience across a broad range of areas including Cultural Specific Policy Analysis, Coaching, Mentoring and Leadership Development. She has specific knowledge and work experience in the Family and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault sectors. Dorinda continues to actively participate in several Board and Committees at the local, State and National levels.


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