Female convicts from Ireland and England in the 18th and 19th Centuries who were sent to Australia had to work in a ‘Female Factory’ either making ropes, flax or wool. Others were sent to the home of settlers to serve as domestic. Some also had the opportunity to work as nurses or record-keepers under the Governor Phillip’s system of labour.
After colonization, the first prison for women opened in 1909 in Long Bay (NSW), nowadays known as the State Reformatory for Women.
In 1969, another training and detention centre was opened in Silverwater (Sydney) and accommodated female prisoners who had previously been in goal in the Long Bay Institution.
Women imprisonment rates in Australia have been steadily increasing, in both the rate at which they are imprisoned (almost four times than twenty years ago) and their percentage of the prison population. There are more women in remand than men although it remains difficult to compare statistic of the time in custody as women have shorter but more frequent periods of imprisonment.
Women tend to be involved in crime typically regarded as less serious, such as shoplifting, fraud and drug-related crimes. Nevertheless, increases in the proportion of incarcerated women might be partially explained by the changes in type of crimes women are committing. Indeed, between 1999 and 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics overview of national trends observed an increase of women committing robbery, theft, assault and homicide. The most serious offence with the highest proportion of offenders for women in Australia in this period was possession/use of illicit drugs, followed by acts intended to cause injury. For men, it was the opposite.