Pregnant women and mothers in the justice system: developing a collaborative, cross-sectoral response to a complex policy and system problem in New South Wales

Dr Jane Rosemary Walker1, Ms Kelly-Anne Stewart2, Professor Elizabeth Sullivan3, Professor Eileen Baldry4

1University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia,

2Corrective Services New South Wales, Sydney, Australia,

3University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia,

4University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

The imprisonment of pregnant women and mothers presents a complex social and policy problem, drawing women, children and carers into disparate systems with different philosophies, goals and ways of working.

Our research found that imprisoned pregnant women and mothers’ main concerns are separation from their children, identifying a suitable caregiver, and reuniting with their children post-release (Walker, Baldry and Sullivan 2019). They face multiple challenges including a lack of co-ordinated, holistic services.

Women are more likely than men to have been responsible for one or more dependent children, so family units are more likely to disintegrate when they are sent to prison (Byrne, 2002, Flynn, 2015, Boswell, 2018) and women are at high risk of losing custody either formally or informally.

It is a growing problem, with the rate of women’s imprisonment in NSW increasing by 19% in the last ten years (ABS 2018). Up to 10% of women received into prison each year are pregnant and more than half are mothers of more than one child (AIHW 2019).

We present collaborative, multi-agency work being undertaken by Corrective Services NSW, academic, government and non-government partner agencies, which aims to develop a better understanding and more supportive, coordinated framework.

The collaboration seeks opportunities to prevent women and children from entering the justice and out-of-home care systems in the first place. In the event that pregnant women and mothers are sent to prison, we aim to develop innovative ‘whole of government’ responses across the justice pathway and back into the community.


Dr Jane Walker specializes in mixed-methods, interdisciplinary research. She has almost twenty years experience in research and related roles in academic and government settings. Her work has focused on women’s and children’s health, early childhood education and care, women’s imprisonment and its impact on children, families and communities, developing and using routine data to inform and improve government systems, and implementation science.

Kelly-Anne Stewart has 18 years’ experience working in the criminal justice sector beginning her career in Juvenile Justice in 2001 in a frontline offender management position.

Since then Kelly-Anne has worked in a range of criminal justice roles both in Australia and overseas for government and non-government organisations working with offenders, people experiencing homelessness, AOD issues and mental health disorders, in a variety of settings from policy development to frontline case management and assertive outreach.

She is currently the Principal Advisor Women Offenders with Corrective Services NSW and part of her role involved playing an active role in the provision of programs and services to women in custody who are parents.

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