Why Have Female Arrest Rates Increased in Recent Years?

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Woman inmate

According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), adult female arrest rates are on the increase.

The number of adult female persons of interest in criminal cases in NSW over the last decade has increased by an average of 2.5% per year, which is higher than the corresponding figures for males at 1.7%.

What offences are females arrested for?

There are a number of offences that have seen a particularly high spike in female arrest rates, and these are mainly:

  • Shoplifting
  • Domestic assault
  • Non-domestic assault

There has also been an increase in females being arrested and charged for drug offences over the past ten years.

Female persons of interest for possession and use of ecstasy offences have increased, up 21.4% per annum.

Although this is a significant increase on previous figures, men still make up the majority of people arrested or investigated on drugs charges.

Why have female arrest rates increased so much?

This increase in female arrest rates could be due to a number of different factors, according to BOCSAR and other experts.

The rise in the number of females being arrested for public order and shoplifting offences could be due to behaviours like stalking and harassing of ex-partners, actions they might not have been arrested for previously, rather than an actual increase in violent or aggressive behaviour among females.

When it comes to the increase in arrest rates for drugs offences, data for the same period of time doesn’t show a corresponding increase in females using drugs, especially amphetamine and ecstasy, which are the main drugs of concern.

BOCSAR director Don Weatherburn has speculated that the increase might be due to increased police activity and changes in policing practices, which have led to more people being arrested for these offences rather than an increase in women committing them.

Females in custody also increasing

The increase in female arrests is also leading to an increase in the number of women being remanded in custody and sentenced to prison.

The rate of females in custody in Australia has close to doubled in recent years.

The rate of females being imprisoned is rising more quickly than the corresponding rate for males, with a 48% increase in female inmates between 2002 and 2012, compared to an increase of 29% for males in custody.

As with male inmates, Aboriginal women are over-represented, making up 29% of females in custody in NSW.

The number of females being held on remand is of particular concern, as inmates who are on remand are not allowed access to the same programs and other rehabilitative resources as those who are sentenced to a period of time in custody.

According to the Women in Prison Advocacy Network, just under two thirds of women serve short sentences of six months or less, for minor offences.

This can also make them ineligible for intervention programs, which means there is little to help them overcome the challenges that may have led to their incarceration in the first place.

What is the longer-term impact of higher female arrest rates?

Heavy-handed policing methods along with higher arrest rates and refusal of bail for females could potentially have a serious impact on the community.

Figures from the NSW Department of Corrective Services show that when males are in custody, 84% of their children are cared for by their mother.

However, when females are in prison, only 28% of their children are cared for by their father, with the rest being looked after by other relatives.

This disruption to the family structure can lead to wider social, emotional and economic repercussions, and further disadvantage already vulnerable families.

With women often not being able to access intervention programs in prisons, substance abuse problems and mental health issues may go untreated, meaning the rate of recidivism could remain high.

An increased number of female inmates could also lead to strain on the justice system and a lack of custodial facilities for women.

Many of the initiatives designed to decrease imprisonment rates and help with rehabilitation are aimed at male offenders, but if female arrest and incarceration rates continue to rise, this may need to be reconsidered.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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