Education and Training

Given that the development of personal skills and knowledge is crucial to the rehabilitation of women prisoners, problems surrounding education and training in women’s prisons must also be examined.

Education and Employment
Women are less likely than men to have access to education, rehabilitation and employment training programs while imprisoned. As unemployment has been found to be a strong predictor of recidivism, this inaccessibility can have negative implications for women post-release.1 In addition, prior to incarceration, women are less likely than men to be employed with unemployment rates of 69% compared with 46%.2 Women are also less likely to have employment organised prior to their release than men (10% and 31% respectively).3

Corrective Service departments throughout Australia have introduced education and training programs in their prisons, and use course completions and reduced recidivism as measures of success.4 Importantly, programs that reduce recidivism rates, such as in-prison study and workplace integrated learning, provide the greatest return to the community in terms of reducing the costs of imprisonment as well as other policing and legal costs. Education and training in prison imparts specific and generic life skills; while workplace integrated learning recognises the importance of and promotes the social aspects of successful reintegration. As such, computers are an important tool to target recidivism through education and self-improvement. Computer literacy is an increasingly vital requirement for everyday life; it significantly affects education, vocational training and career prospects.

Women in prison can and do earn a higher wage by working in a prison industry than what they might earn if they choose to do a full-time educational course. In NSW, women undertaking full-time education are placed on the wage classification Level 1 and may progress to Level 3.5 This means that they can receive a wage that varies between $17.76 per week and $24.15 per week.6 By contrast, from participating in the prison work industry, women are able to increase their income earning ability to $35-65 per week. This results in minimal numbers of women in prison completing education. Additionally women are more likely than men to rely on their ‘prison wage’ to purchase their toiletries and personal items, as men more frequently have greater levels of family and financial support while in prison than do women.7

In 2002, the decision in the court case ofMiddleton v Commissioner of Corrective Services of New South Wales, Justice Dowd discussed the role of education in rehabilitation stating that “it is hard to imagine a better rehabilitation tool than the gaining of tertiary qualifications of a sophisticated nature”. The most important aspect of this scheme is that it encourages prisoner education. It is important to implement computers within prisons to allow prisoners to successfully move towards a TAFE or university qualification, and do so in a far more user-friendly method than any prison library or occasional prison educational course.

Access to Programs and Services
Advocates for women prisoners throughout Australia have asserted that the programs and services available to women in prison are not comparable in quantity, quality, or variety to those provided to male prisoners, and contrary to the Bangkok Rules. The small number of women prisoners in custody is one of the main arguments for the low number of programs that focus on women prisoners’ particular and special needs.8

The tragic case of Tracy Brannigan in NSW highlights the need for active development and opportunities for women in prisons. Tracy and her family fought for her right to develop whilst in prison and as such she should have been able to use her prison time effectively. Instead Tracy was left frustrated with no computer in her cell or access to other productive alternatives. As a result of isolation from friends and family, sufficient monitoring, general inactivity and a lack of rehabilitation services, Tracy relapsed into drug use and died from a drug overdose in a NSW prison in February 2013.9 Her avoidable death in custody demonstrates the need for change and interventions in the women’s prison system.

Core Programs 
In Australia, each prison has different ‘core programs’. Generally, these programs address issues like anger management, domestic violence (for perpetrators and survivors), alcohol and drugs and teach cognitive skills, literacy and numeracy. In the last ten to fifteen years these programs have differed in content for male and female prison populations.9 Programs designed specifically for women in various States and Territories address self-esteem, parenting, communication and assertiveness, skills and change, life choices and stress management. 

During their incarceration, women prisoners may be offered and encouraged to attend a variety of core programs. The programs a woman attends or gains access to will largely depend on the length of her sentence, the nature of the offence, what prison she is located in and/or what actual program is avaialable in that particular prison and an assessment to determine her needs and risk of re–offending. Unfortunately most women on remand in prison (unsentenced) across Australia do not generally have access to core programs.

[1] NSW Legislative Council, Interim report: Issues relating to women, Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population 2000, 13 November 2001

[2] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, The Health of Australia’s Prisoners 2012, Canberra: 2013, p.22.

[3] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, The Health of Australia’s Prisoners 2012, Canberra: 2013, p.23.

[4] Nally, J, Lockwood, S, Knutson, K, Ho, Taiping, An Evaluation of the Effect of Correctional Education Programs on Post-Release Recidivism and Employment, 63 Journal of Correctional Education 1, 2012 pp. 69-89.

[5] Corrective Services Industries 2013, Corrective Services NSW, (Accessed: 26 May 2014)

[6] ibid.

[7] Women in Prison Advocacy Network, (WIPAN) 2013

[8] Women in Prison Advocacy Network (WIPAN), 2013

[9] Justice Action 2013, Justice Action, (Accessed: 26 May 2014),

[10] Howells, Kevin, ‘Treatment, Management and Rehabilitation of Women in Prison’, 2001, p.8.

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