“He dug graves under the house saying that he was going to kill me”: family and domestic violence, and women’s pathways into prison

Dr Mandy Wilson1, Dr Jocelyn Jones2, Professor Tony Butler3

1National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University, Perth, Australia,

2Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia,

3Justice Health Research Program, Kirby Institute, UNSW, Sydney, Australia

Despite females comprising a small segment of the Australian prisoner population (8%) the rate of incarceration among women has skyrocketed over the past decade. While the majority of women commit minor non-violent crime, in 2018, the most serious offence/charge for 40% of women in Australian prisons was classified as violent, and a 60% increase in the proportion of women sentenced for violent crimes has been observed since 2008 (ABS, 2018).

Drawing on the ‘Beyond Violence’ research with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women sentenced for violent offences in West Australian prisons, this paper explores the extent and impact of violence on the women’s lives. The majority of incarcerated women are survivors of multiple forms of violence with studies showing much higher rates of childhood abuse, and family and domestic violence (FDV) than among women in the general community. Violence has harmful health and other consequences for women experiencing it, including injury, death, homelessness, mental health issues and trauma. It can also lead to women’s own use of self-defensive or retaliatory force resulting in contact with the criminal justice system.

An increase among women incarcerated for violent offences is contributing to the burgeoning prisoner population. However, advocates argue that in order to halt rising incarceration rates among women, we must stop relying on (and funding) the criminal justice system to protect women and children from male violence. If we are serious about reducing the number of women in prison, simply increasing the capacity of prisons to house victimised women is not the answer.


Dr Mandy Wilson is a Research Fellow and Program Leader for Justice Health at the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI), Curtin University. An anthropologist and qualitative researcher, she works on a variety of projects which reflect her interest in Aboriginal and offender health, and in gender and sexuality. In particular, her current involvement includes research and advocacy around justice, substance use issues and violence/fighting, with a particular focus on the experiences of Aboriginal girls and incarcerated women, and gender and sexual minority groups.

Dr Jocelyn Jones is a Nyoongar woman, with Wadjuk, Ballardong and Palyku connections to the land in WA. She holds a PhD and Masters in Applied Epidemiology. Dr Jones has extensive experience working in health and justice, and working in both Aboriginal community controlled health services and in senior management positions in the Department of Health and Corrective Services in Western Australia. She is an early career researcher and in the last 5 years has made significant contributions to Aboriginal health and social wellbeing through her work with Aboriginal prisoners and juvenile detainees

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