QSAC report: Women jail sentences rise 339%

The number of women handed jail sentences in Queensland has more than quadrupled since 2005.

The Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council (QSAC) this morning released a report entitled ‘Engendering justice – the sentencing of women and girls’ that reveals the number of women and girls being sentenced to custodial terms by courts rose by 339% from 485 cases (most serious offence) in 2005-06 to 2128 cases in 2018-19.

QSAC Chair John Robertson, who served as Queensland District Court judge for almost 25 years and was a former Childrens Court President, said today the dramatic increase of prison terms handed to women showed the emergence of a “sentencing trend of significance”.

“Our research shows that Queensland courts have increasingly sentenced women to imprisonment over time,” Mr Roberson said.

“In 2005-06, 1.7% of all sentenced women received a prison sentence. This increased to 6.2%.

“This is despite the overall rate of women being sentenced in Queensland courts declining since 2009-10.”


More key findings from the report will be delivered this evening during a panel discussion chaired by QSAC Deputy Chair and Griffith University Professor Elena Marchetti.

The event, at Brisbane Powerhouse’s Underground Theatre from 6pm, is scheduled to include a keynote address by former Queensland Court of Appeal President and current Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce Chair Margaret McMurdo AC.

Other eminent women scheduled to appear as panellists at the event include:

  • Thelma Schwartz, Principal Legal Officer, Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service
  • Ruth O’Gorman QC, Barrister and Chair of Criminal Law Committee (Bar Association of Queensland)
  • Debbie Kilroy OAM, CEO Sisters Inside and QSAC member
  • Professor Thalia Anthony, Faculty of Law at University of Technology Sydney
  • Natalie Lewis, Queensland Family and Child Commissioner.

The QSAC report also found the most common reasons women were jailed were for offences of stealing (10%), breach of bail (8.7%), possessing dangerous drugs (7.1%), fraud (6.8%) and assaults causing occasioning bodily harm (6.0%).

Mr Robertson said the majority of women were sentenced to jail for terms of less than 12-months.

“Our research found that 40% of women sentenced to imprisonment received less than six months, and over one-quarter received a sentence of six months to a year,” he said. “Most cases still result in courts imposing a fine or other form of non-custodial penalty.”


The report also revealed Queensland figures mirrored findings both in Australia and overseas that women’s imprisonment was on the rise.

“Women’s imprisonment has been increasing in Australia, the United Kingdom and United States of America since the 1980s, and it is increasing at a much faster rate than men’s,” Mr Robertson said.

“In Australia, the population of men in prison doubled from 1991 to 2021. At the same time, the female prison population tripled.”

Read the report.

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