Women’s Imprisonment and Drug Use

Drug use is a significant contributing factor to women’s imprisonment in Australia. Theories on the causal relationship between drug use and crime in Australian literature have often overlooked the influence of gender as a confounding variable. However, research indicates that pathways into drug use and crime differ for males and females. Data from the Australian Institute of Criminology’s Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program found that female detainees were more likely to use ‘hard’ drugs and to have been arrested for a property crime1. This study explored the relationship between drug use, offending, mental health and experiences of child abuse among a sample of police detainees. The relationship between experiences of mental illness, drug use and arrest was also stronger for female detainees2.

Women in prison use illicit drugs differently to men, with more than 14% of women reporting use of ecstasy, 20% heroin, 30% tranquillizers, 38% analgesics and 44% methamphetamine compared with men in prison (respectively 9%, 14%, 15%, 15% and 36%)3. More women (56%) than men (42%) reported previous or current injecting drug use4. Eighty percent (80%) of female prisoners are also daily smokers5.

A number of ‘core programs’ exist in prisons throughout Australia, which target specific issues, including that of drug use. See ‘Education and Training: Core Programs’ for further information regarding such programs. Nevertheless, the programs and services, which are implemented in prisons, are still inadequate, inconsistent and not gender-specific in they’re approach.

Given the high rates of both women and men committing crime due to drug use, special drug courts have been set up in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia to establish and manage drug diversionary programs. Other agencies (for example, police, magistrates’ courts) have also set up their own drug diversion programs. In some Australian jurisdictions, programs catering specifically to the drug-related treatment needs of young people have also been established.

An intermediate measure of the design and working of these programs is the completion or graduation rate, which hovers between 30% and 40%6 7. Offenders who complete a drug diversion program are less likely to reoffend during the intervention period as well as after graduating.

A low rate of completion reflects poorly upon the functioning of drug diversion programs. Although the low program completion rates may reflect the entrenched nature of drug abuse and addiction, there seems to be a need for significant practice changes for these programs to work effectively8.

The eligibility requirements of some of these ‘drug court’ programs differ from state to state. In some cases, individuals with a particular problem that is under the consideration of a court may enrol themselves in these programs. The effectiveness of many of these programs has not been fully studied.

[1] Forsythe, L. and Adams, K. Australian Institute of Criminology report No 384, Trends & Issues in Crime and the Criminal Justice, 2009.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, The Health of Australia’s Prisoners 2012, Canberra: 2013, p. 77.

[4] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, The Health of Australia’s Prisoners 2012, Canberra: 2013, p. 78.

[5] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, The Health of Australia’s Prisoners 2012, Canberra: 2013, p. 84.

[6] Ziersch E & Marshall J, 2012. The South Australian Drug Court: a recidivism study. Adelaide: Attorney-General’s Department. (Accessed: 29 April, 2014) https://www.ocsar.sa.gov.au/docs/evaluation_reports/SADrugCourtRecidivismStudy.pdf

[7] Payne J, 2008, The Queensland Drug Court: a recidivism study of the first 100 graduates. Research and public policy series no. 83. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. (Accessed: 12 May 2014), https://aic.gov.au/publications/current

[8] ibid.

Leave a Comment