14 April 2016
WHERE ARE ABORIGINAL WOMEN IN THE ROYAL
The mass incarceration of Aboriginal women is the starkest illustration
of our failure to address the major findings of the Royal Commission
into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 25 years ago, according Sisters
Inside CEO, Debbie Kilroy.
But she says it also highlights failures in the report itself.
She says women were barely mentioned in the 339 recommendations
from the commission, established by then Prime Minister Bob Hawke,
to address the alarming number of deaths after arrest of Aboriginal
people across Australia.
'Aboriginal women are blatantly targeted and their numbers in the
criminal justice system have grown faster than any other group in
the population,' Ms Kilroy says.
'Coincidentally, they are the most disadvantaged group in our community,
the most impoverished, the most violated.
'Their health is worse than any other population group, they have
the least education, the most exposure to violence, few employment
opportunities. Many cannot read or write.
'Most Aboriginal women incarcerated around Australia have been
pipelined into the child protection system as young girls, taken
into what we euphemistically call 'care'.
'It's time we woke up to the fact that these are not what society
sees as 'bad' people. Most of these women have not even been sentenced.
'The average length of stay behind bars is 4.9 weeks. More than
50 percent of women are in prison for minor parole violation or
on remand, and they don't get bail because they're homeless or they
have an addiction or a mental illness.
'So prison becomes our default dumping ground for poverty, for
homelessness, for violence. And it has to stop.'
The most basic human rights, rights most of us take for granted
every day, are violated in our treatment of Aboriginal women, she
She called for urgent action from governments at all levels to
support Aboriginal women and girls, to prevent their imprisonment
in the spirit of the commissioners 25 years ago who went to hot,
dusty and impoverished and remote Aboriginal communities, who sat
with Aboriginal people and listened to them.
'But governments and prime ministers and premiers who said they
were shocked at the evidence given then, who promised action, have
now eviscerated services to these communities so that Aboriginal
women continue to be the most marginalized population in this country,
the bottom rung on the ladder,' she said.
'When we observe the 25th anniversary of the royal commission,
we need to think of them, and whether we, as a community that does
not support the caging of animals, will continue to support the
wholesale caging of Aboriginal women.'
Further information: Debbie Kilroy, CEO, Sisters Inside Mobile
0419 762 474
9th December 2015
6 deaths in 2 months
SIX DEATHS IN TWO MONTHS
The death of a mother in Brisbane last week has highlighted the
little-known tragedy of life after prison for many women, according
to Sisters Inside CEO Debbie Kilroy.
The Indigenous mother was the sixth recently released female prisoner
to die in the past two months. Alarming figures show the mortality
rate of these women far exceeds that of women in the general community,
and also of recently released men. Suicide is the leading cause
"Women are simply being thrown out of prison without any help
to access housing, income, health, family and employment support,"
"The vast majority are victims of violence who have been retraumatised
by their prison experience. Too many entered prison with poor health,
and leave in even worse health. Too many lost custody of their children
when they went to prison, and are left feeling hopeless and isolated
upon release. Too many were unemployed prior to their imprisonment,
and have even less chance of getting a job with a criminal record."
Many of these are indigenous women, who are imprisoned at 20 times
the rate of non-indigenous women and comprise roughly one third
of all women prisoners in Queensland, she said.
"Sisters Inside again calls on the Queensland Government to
provide urgently-needed funding for gender and culture-appropriate
post-release support services for women prisoners throughout the
state. There is a critical demand for a Sisters Inside service based
in Townsville to focus on the health, housing, family support and
community reintegration needs of recently-released women and their
children in Far North Queensland.
"Too many women, particularly Indigenous women, are tragically
dying before their time, with life-long impacts on their children,
families and communities."
Further information contact: Debbie Kilroy - 0419 762 474, [email protected]
7th October 2014
LAWYER CALLS FOR END TO TARGETING
OF ABORIGINAL WOMEN
The shameful targeting of Aboriginal women in the
legal and criminal justice system must be halted before more women
die at its hands, according to criminal lawyer and CEO of Sisters
Inside, Debbie Kilroy.
Ms Kilroy will tell an international conference tomorrow
[Wednesday] that the rates of imprisonment for Aboriginal women in
Australia have rocketed up by 86 percent in the past decade. In comparison,
the imprisonment rate for non-indigenous men has grown only around
Ms Kilroy blamed the trend on 'systemic and structural
racism and sexism', and has challenged all women, indigenous and non-indigenous,
to join a campaign aimed at halting it.
'We can achieve a great deal with simple changes,
like making non-payment of fines a non-jailable offence,' she said.'We
can look more closely at our domestic violence laws which have been
"de-gendered" so that it's likely Aboriginal women defending
themselves against a violent partner will have an order slapped on
her as well by the police.
'We can also change the way we deal with those situations,
which have become infected by the approach of white male lawyers.
For instance, if Billy has been stabbed, they'll ask if she did it
and she'll say, yes. That's it, she's done.
'I go in and say, so Billy got stabbed, tell me what happened. And
then you get a long and horrific history of the violence she's endured
for years until finally, she's fought back. It changes the story.'
Ms Kilroy also called for more emphasis on programs
that not only engage young at-risk Aboriginal women, but programs
that provide reliable and trustworthy connection for them.
Long-running programs around art and sport provided
by Sisters Inside had kept troubled Aboriginal girls out of courts
and detention centres, she said.
The 'Are Prisons Obsolete?' conference also features
world-reknowned activists prison abolitionists Angela Davis, Kim Pate
and Gina Dent, Australian journalist and commentor Anne Summers, and
international experts on decarceration and women's experience including
Sharon McIvor (Canada), Deborah Coles (UK) Erica Meiners, and Cassandra
Australian experts include Antoinette Braybrook, Priscilla Collins,
Amanda George, Melissa Lucashenko, Megan Davies & Anne Summers.
Women with lived prison experience will also attend.
Subjects will include alternatives and models of decarceration,
abolition research, issues for women and children and creative mediums.
Angela Davis and Kim Pate will join Debbie Kilroy in keynote addresses
on Wednesday morning.
An auction of young indigenous women's art will be
held on Thursday evening.
The conference will open on Wednesday and run for
three days at the Royal on the Park Hotel, corner Albert and Alice
Participants will be available for comment.
Contact: Debbie Kilroy 0419 762 474 or Kris Olsson
0402 428 536
4th June 2014
L.N.P ATTACKS THE MOST VULNERABLE
WOMEN IN QUEENSLAND
"L.N.P's short sighted budget ensures that the most vulnerable
women and their children in Queensland will pay the price" says
Debbie Kilroy, Chief Executive Officer, Sisters Inside Inc.
The L.N.P closed down diversion courts and we saw prison numbers sore.
Now we see a budget that will imprison 350+ more vulnerable women
in Queensland prisons. We will have the highest women's prison population
in the country.
The cost will be so much more in the long run. Children will be removed
from their mothers; women exposed to State Violence, and over representation
of Aboriginal Women in prison will continue to increase.
Aboriginal Women are the fastest growing prison population in Queensland.
The L.N.P is ensuring this will increase drastically. We need vision
not short term Law & Order populist politics.
Services have been axed, violence against women continues to crease,
more women and children are homeless and the L.N.P refuse to allocate
funds to address such atrocities.
When will we see social policy and a budget that addresses disadvantage
in Queensland and not a budget that attacks the most vulnerable in
Queensland? Says Ms Kilroy.
For Further information please call Debbie Kilroy 0419 762 474.
31st October 2013
ABC NEws Online
Campbell Newman's stoush with judiciary could put court system in
crisis, prisoner advocate Debbie Kilroy says.
23rd September 2013
ABC 612 Brisbane
with Terri Begley
28th August 2013
National Indigenous TV
25th June 2013
with Richard Fidler
25th April 2013
Stringer Independant News
Inside Debbie Kilroy on women in prison
6th August 2012
mining and the can-do atttitude
30 May 2012
protection is failing children: research
24 May 2012
National Indigenous Times
Kilroy appeals for Queensland Government to show a heart for Sisters
Inside by maintaining $120,000 funding
ABC 7.30 Report
Government withdraws funding for women prisoners' group
10 May 2012
Steve Auston ABC 612AM
Regarding the cut to Townville funding and services.
April 19 2012
Vital Funding Meeting
Prison advocacy group Sisters Inside has asked for an
urgent meeting to discuss the State Governments continued funding
for the group to provide services to disadvantaged women inside Townsville
Womens Correctional Centre (TWCC).
Funding for the organisations family support services,
counselling support services, mother and children reunification programs
and other referral services is due to run out at the end of June.
Sisters CEO Debbie Kilroy said she would seek assurances
from the new Minister for Communities, Tracy Davis, that funding for
these critical services would continue.
We offer services to more than 40 women every
fortnight in Townsville, Ms Kilroy said. These are predominantly
Indigenous women. As most people are aware, Indigenous women are over-represented
in TWCC, and these women have experienced high levels of violence
perpetrated against them, as well as isolation.
A great majority of them cannot read or write.
Therefore, their support needs are high and complex.
Sisters Inside, which provides services to women in
correctional facilities all over Queensland, is the sole provider
of these services in TWCC.
Ms Kilroy said that in the first three months of 2012,
188 support sessions had been provided by Sisters Inside to women
in TWCC 61 percent of which were Indigenous.
These figures clearly show the high need for such
services, which involve face-to-face family support sessions, counselling,
mother and child reunification sessions and referral and advice,
Ms Kilroy said she had written to Ms Davis to bring
her attention to the funding deadline as a matter of urgency.
More details: Debbie Kilroy 0419 762474
4th September 2009
Australia's Shameful Human Rights Record
(Brisbane) - Sisters Inside hosted an international conference of
several hundred in Brisbane this week. "Those gathered requested
the release of this statement. Speakers from across Australia and
around the world were unanimous in their denunciation of the continued
attacks on the autonomy of Indigenous people," announced Debbie
Kilroy, the Director of Sisters Inside.
"The enactment of the intervention has severely
impacted the lives of Aboriginal families. There is no justification
for the continued suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in relation
to government policy about Aboriginal people," explained Jacqui
Katona, a member of the Sisters Inside Management Committee, who recently
returned to Brisbane after working in the Northern Territory.
This conference recognizes that the Australian government's actions
have systemically disempowered Aboriginal people and deprived them
of their rights as citizens. Government policy continues to fail to
address the disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal communities without
taking responsibility for this failure. Governments need to resource
local people. Only then will they act in a meaningful way to effect
change and create healthy futures for individuals and Indigenous communities.
"We are shocked to witness the negative response
of the Commonwealth and state governments to the recent observations
of Special Rapporteur James Anaya. We urge the Special Rapporteur,
and the United Nations as a whole, to continue to gather information
specifically from women who deal with the consequences of the negative
impacts of government interventions such as the income management
measures," continued Kim Pate, Executive Director of the Canadian
Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. "We endorse the call
of Indigenous women here to the Australian and Territorial Governments
to respond to their calls for resources for local people and communities.
This is paramount."
"Conference participants today demanded that engagement
between governments and Aboriginal people be based on standards which
will allow negotiation regarding solutions to the short term special
measure of the intervention. The conference also demanded that the
Australian governments cease their attack on the rights of Aboriginal
people under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (NT) 1976," affirmed
Ms Kilroy. "We further call on the Federal Government to provide
necessary support to Aboriginal community based organizations and
legal services which support women and their families through the
development of community driven sustainable, solutions."
"All of us here are appalled at the continued lack
of recognition of the rights of Aboriginal people in Australia, especially
given what is continuing in the Northern Territory," continued
Angela Davis, world renowned anti-oppression scholar and activist.
"All assembled demand that the genocide end."
Contact person: Debbie Kilroy, Director, Sisters Inside
- 04 19 762 474
9th March 2006
Report - Lock, Stock and Barrel
Community Advocates will meet to discuss the impact
of the Anti Discrimination Commission (ADC) 'Women in Prison' Report
and the response by Minister Judy Spence.
What: Advocates from a diverse range of organisations
are calling on Premier Peter Beattie to implement the 68 recommendations
in the 155 page ADCQ 'Women in Prison' Report lock, stock and barrel.
Engineers Australia Building
Level 1, 447 Upper Edward Street
When: 9th March 2006 - 10am to 10:45am
Why: The ADCQ 'Women in Prison' Report exposes a cluster of
direct, indirect and systemic discrimination.. Advocates have long
voiced concerns that discrimination and human rights abuses regularly
occur in institutional settings. Vulnerable women who need care and
support are often left to languish in Queensland prisons. The ADCQ
report highlights the urgent action to remedy the discriminatory practices
within Queensland prisons
Call on Queensland to
Remedy Human Rights Violations
March 8, 2006 - Ottawa - Equality rights groups in Canada
are urging the Government of Queensland to immediately implement the
recommendations released today by the Anti-Discrimination Commission
of Queensland (ADCQ). The special report on systemic human rights
violations experienced by women prisoners in Australia released today,
International Women's Day (IWD), also marks the 5th anniversary of
the launching of a similar complaint in Canada.
"The number of times that the Commission calls
for reviews, audits and external accountability shows they understand
the urgent need to address the human rights violations experienced
by women prisoners," stated Dr. Ailsa M. Watkinson, President
of Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), the group
that called for the review in Canada on March 8, 2001. "We commend
the Commission and we are especially pleased that they recognize the
fundamental flaws in a system that fails to accommodate women's needs,
rather than continuing to treat women like men or develops approaches
based on stereotypes and misperceptions. We commend the ADCQ for calling
for a criminal justice response to mothers that presumes, in the best
interests of children, they should not be jailed," continued
"We strongly support the Commission's proposal for independent
monitoring and accountability mechanisms," says Kim Pate, Executive
Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Societies. "The
call for the Chief Inspector to report directly to Parliament is clearly
a repudiation of the claims of the Minister responsible for Corrective
Services that all is well for women in prisons in Queensland. In our
experience, these sorts of recommendations for more rigorous oversight
are increasingly being made by human rights bodies, such as the United
Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, as a result
of the failure of correctional services to protect the human rights
of women prisoners. There is an urgent and vital need to protect women
in prison from degrading and discriminatory treatment, by ensuring
adherence to principles of justice, fairness and the rule of law,"
For additional information:
Contact Dr. Ailsa Watkinson or Kim Pate at 0011-1-613-298-2422
Refer to the CAEFS' web site at www.elizabethfry.ca
8th March 2006
Implement Report -
'Lock, Stock and Barrel'
Prisoner advocacy group Sisters Inside has called on
the State government to implement the recommendations in the Anti-Discrimination
Commission's 'Women in Prison' Report 'lock, stock and barrel'.
Sisters Inside's President Anne Warner said the report,
which calls for an independent inspector to oversee practices within
the prison as well as major changes to policies affecting women with
mental illnesses, Aboriginal women, and a number of other disadvantaged
groups of women vindicated the action her organisation had taken in
lodging the initial submission about discrimination nearly two years
She said the report found many instances of direct and
indirect discrimination against women prisoners that Sisters Inside
had been trying to bring to the attention of government and the public
Ironically, since lodging the submission in June 2004,
the organisation's work within the prison has been severely curtailed,
limiting its access to women and to information about potential abuse.
'These reprehensible practices have been brought to
light through the vigilance of this organisation and our constant
presence inside prisons. Now our scrutiny has been minimised, and
obviously the situation has deteriorated since our Management Committee
meetings have been banned and our services curtailed' she said.
This report has highlighted even more shocking abuses
than we mentioned in our submission.
'There has been a developing climate of fear and retribution
and women inside have been discouraged from associating themselves
with Sisters Inside. Since our lockout 20 months ago the situation
has only deteriorated and unless the government acts quickly to implement
this report and take seriously criticisms and suggestions made in
the report further injustices and degradations will occur and maybe
a full scale Royal Commission may become necessary' Ms Warner said.
'We call on the government once again to reinstate our
previous level of access to women's prisons in Queensland.'
Sisters Inside's Director, Debbie Kilroy, said she was particularly
pleased with recommendations regarding the Crisis Support Unit, where
women are held by physical and chemical restraints, stripped naked
and incarcerated without light and under the gaze of male prison officers.
'The humiliation and loss of dignity suffered by these
women is unacceptable in a civilised society,' she said.
Ms Kilroy also welcomed recommendations that the Penalties
and Sentences Act be amended to ensure that courts have to take into
account the best interests of the child when sentencing women.
'Clearly the report has highlighted that strip searching
in the crisis support unit has nothing to do with drugs or contraband
it has more to do with control, punishment and their lack of understanding
of women with mental illness' she said.
'This is a fair and thorough report and anyone with
daughters or sisters or mothers or friends in prison would be happy
that an organisation like Sisters Inside is there to provide comfort,
communication and support for their love ones. Even MPs have asked
Sister Inside to fulfil this role'.
We therefore call upon the Premier to make sure that
his Government implement this report.
Prison Advocate Calls
on Governments to listen to Mentally Ill Women in Prison
Debbie Kilroy, Director of Sisters' Inside, said that
a Queensland Department of Corrective Services internal inquiry last
year heard evidence from Cornelia Rau about her treatment in Brisbane
Women's Correctional Centre. Cornelia Rau spoke to an internal Queensland
Corrections investigation of complaints about the treatment of women
with mental illness last year. The investigation followed Sisters
Inside raising concerns about the management of mentally ill women
and the inadequate level of psychiatric services in Brisbane Women's
Ms Kilroy said that all of the evidence given to the
investigation was tape recorded in her presence and the tapes of Cornelia
Rau's descriptions of her situation may be of use to the Inquiry being
undertaken by Mr Mick Palmer for the Federal Government.
It is likely that these tapes are the only record of
Cornelia Rau's experience in prison told in her own words, Ms Kilroy
Ms Kilroy said that Mr Palmer should ask an experienced
mental health professional to listen to these recordings of Ms Rau.
"Cornelia Rau spoke softly and clearly and frequently
told me that she did not belong in prison because she had done nothing
wrong," Debbie Kilroy said.
"I am not a mental health professional," Ms
Kilroy said, "however we told officials of DIMIA that Sisters
Inside workers thought there was something wrong about this case."
"Cornelia Rau couldn't describe her illness however she did complain
about her situation and wrote to Sisters' Inside about abusive behaviour.
Her communications, verbal and written, were not always coherent but
she had constantly raised concerns. She talked and wrote to Sisters
Inside and became very distressed when our staff were no longer able
to visit her at Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre. She was consistently
expressing her anger at the violation of her rights that she was experiencing.
She could not explain why she should not be in prison but she consistently
said her rights were being violated and that she did not belong in
prison, " Debbie Kilroy said.
"People with mental illness are frequently unable
to provide the consistent and detailed reports which Government agencies
deem necessary before they will respond to accounts of mistreatment
and neglect. The very nature of their illnesses can mean that they
are inconsistent and delusional.
Ms Kilroy said that prisons had become the most available
means of containing women with mental illnesses whose behaviours brought
them to the attention of police and the courts. Community resources
to treat and support mentally ill people are poorly funded and staff
are overworked. Without accessible assessment and treatment centres,
the courts often sent women to prison in the hope that they would
be diagnosed and treated there. Ms Kilroy said that services for mentally
ill people in prison were even worse than for those in the community.
Mentally ill prisoners often deteriorate rapidly in prison and prison
staff lack training and resources to respond adequately.
"Women with mental illnesses do not belong in prison,"
Debbie Kilroy said.
28th October 2005
Prisons are NOT an
answer to Crime
Alarm bells should be ringing loudly in everyone's ears
as the Queensland government embarks on a massive billion dollar prison
A quick glance across the Pacific to United States should
warn us that high levels of incarceration do not decrease crime.
Even rudimentary research into the American experience
which has been the world leader in levels of incarceration reveals
that high incarceration levels were never the answer to crime.
In the United States the boom of prison construction
over the 80s and 90s is finally over. It was a failed social experiment
and is being stopped because finally the penny has dropped and US
authorities, State and Federal, understand that prison is not a deterrent
to crime, nor is it an economic saviour and is economically unsustainable.
The assertion that locating a new prison in rural Queensland
would provide an economic boost to the area is clearly wrong. The
US experience has proven that limited economic benefits occur in those
country towns which have seen huge prisons constructed.
Ms Kilroy said that "Queensland tax payers should
be very wary of being fobbed off with out dated US policy directions".
The Minister and the Department should provide some leadership, some
real policy debate and understanding of the social realities of criminalisation
of our society.
Most people in prison should not be there. They are
there for trivial offences which would not have occurred if there
had been decent social provision of housing, education and health.
Ms Kilroy reminds us that "We are being asked to
accept that the prison population will increase by 90% over the next
10 years and so it will unless the government takes steps to stop
Our prisons are full of the poor, the sick, the disabled,
Indigenous, the young, the vulnerable and ever increasingly women.
Why would we want to double this population over the
next 10 years?
Surely the question is "how do we get these people
out of prison, not where do we build a new prison to incarcerate more
of the same".
We call upon the Government to come good on its promise
and address the causes of crime and provide high quality health care,
high quality education and high quality affordable housing. This is
where the money should be spent - not building a mausoleum for a sick
We demand community safety and a moratorium on building
any more prisons in Queensland now.
August 17, 2004
BE HEARD ON WOMEN'S
A prisoners advocacy group has urged members of the public to consider
making submissions to an inquiry into allegations of systemic discrimination
against women in Queensland prisons.
Brisbane-based Sisters Inside, an internationally recognised organization
which supports women prisoners and advocates for their human rights,
wants anyone affected by the prison system along with professionals
in the field to record their experiences for the inquiry, conducted
by the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission, before the September
10 closing date.
Sisters Inside director, Debbie Kilroy, said it was vital that the
commissioner, Ms Susan Booth, heard from all parties with an interest
in the welfare of women incarcerated throughout Queensland.
She said Ms Booth would examine evidence of systemic discrimination
against women on the basis of gender, race, religion and mental or
intellectual disability throughout the prison system in Queensland.
An inquiry which is the first in Australia's history.
'Discrimination against women prisoners may be felt directly or indirectly.
But broadly, it is experienced through the classifications system,
which converts "disadvantage" into "risk"; the
numbers of low security beds which sees most women imprisoned in maximum-security
facilities; fewer opportunities for women for release into low security
prisons, parole, work release or home detention; inadequate educational,
skill-based and recreational programs; limited work opportunities,
and mandatory strip-searching, which traumatises the majority of women
prisoners who have previously been sexually abused or assaulted,'
Ms Kilroy said.
'In most of these areas, indigenous women prisoners and those from
culturally diverse backgrounds, along with those with mental or intellectual
impairment, are doubly punished. While women prisoners in general
have different needs to males, these groups have even more specialised
needs which must be addressed if they are to have any chance of re-making
The numbers of women prisoners throughout Australia has leapt by 110
percent in the past 10 years, compared to a 45 percent increase in
male prisoners. In Queensland, there are currently just over 320 women
in prison, the majority serving sentences of less than two years.
Ms Kilroy said that, while individuals and families affected by imprisonment
were often reluctant to speak out about their experiences, it was
vital that this independent inquiry heard from those who best understood
their implications. People could approach Sisters Inside for help
or reassurance about making submissions by using the toll-free number,
14th July 2005
ARE PRISONS OBSOLETE?
Over 300 delegates will converge on Melbourne next week for an international
conference focussing on the experience of women prisoners, and whether
prisons for women and men are actually necessary.
'Are Prisons Obsolete?' at the Hotel Y from July 20-22
will feature interstate and overseas speakers including activists
Angela Davis, Kim Pate, Debbie Kilroy and Amanda George. They will
be joined by specialists in mental health, indigenous affairs and
drug and alcohol issues as well as men and women working with children
of incarcerated women, sexual assault workers and prisoner advocates.
In a year that has seen ongoing furore over the detention
in state prisons of women accused of illegal residence in Australia,
and the subsequent focus on the high number of women prisoners with
mental illnesses, the program will feature several addresses and discussions
around the provision of health services inside and outside prisons.
Women recently released from prison will also address
the conference about their experiences. They include Debbie Kilroy
OAM, who spent several years in Brisbane's notorious Boggo Road prison
and who now directs Sisters Inside, a unique advocacy organisation
in Brisbane which boasts women on the inside as well as outside prison
on its management committee.
Sisters Inside, which is hosting the conference along
with Melbourne women's support service, Flat Out, and the Aboriginal
Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service (Victoria) provides programs
for women including sexual assault counselling and transition support
as well as programs for children and their incarcerated mothers and
assistance with accommodation and employment.
Given the disproportionate numbers of indigenous women
in prison, their issues are also high on the agenda. Indigenous speakers
include Lillian Holt from the University of Melbourne, Jackie Huggins
from the University of Queensland and Antoinette Braybrook.
8th June 2004
Prison Group Makes
In a historic move against a State government a small Queensland organisation
has lodged a formal complaint in the Anti Discrimination Commission
over the systemic discrimination of women in Queensland prisons.
Sisters Inside, an independent community organisation
which advocates for the human rights of women in the criminal justice
system, claims that women are forgotten in a system which exacerbates
their previous traumas, such as sexual and physical abuse or drug
addiction, ignores their needs and blatantly lies about the reality
They claim Aboriginal women - who represent 30% of the
prison population - experience discrimination on the grounds of race,
spending their sentences in maximum security prisons without access
to gradual community release, parole and work experience opportunities.
The group is also concerned that women with mental health,
physical and cognitive disabilities are also over represented and
face horrendous abuse and isolation behind bars.
But according to Sisters Inside director, Debbie Kilroy,
every woman who is incarcerated in Queensland suffers discrimination
based on sex, and through an outdated classification system which
penalizes them for the disadvantages they have often carried since
childhood, and which may often be responsible for their imprisonment
in the first place.
Ms Kilroy, who experienced the Queensland system first-hand
in the early 90s, says women with histories of serious abuse and consequent
mental illness were likely to face extended periods of isolation in
solitary detention units where they were forcefully restrained and
suffered sensory deprivation.
'Many of the practices used against women generally
echo those we expressed such horror about inside the Abu Graib prison
in Iraq,' she said.
'I do not wish in any way to diminish the extent of
those atrocities, but to draw attention to the fact that, inside Queensland
prisons at least, women are regularly forced into mandatory strip
searches; restrained with hand cuffs and body belts; left in 'rubber
rooms' in isolation for hours; placed naked inside 'suicide' gowns
and tied to mattresses.
The submission, forwarded by Sisters Inside to Anti
Discrimination Commissioner Susan Booth this week, urges the Commission
to initiate an independent inquiry immediately so that the issues
they have raised can be 'fully examined and rectified'.
'Services and programs for prisoners should be developed
through a process that measures whether all members of the group 'prisoners'
are having their needs met. If that is not the case, then the programs
should reflect the disparity in needs of differing groups of prisoners,
including women, Aboriginal women, other culturally and linguistically
diverse women, women with disabilities, and women with children,'
Ms Kilroy said. 'The non-discriminatory provision of programs and
services would reflect the different needs and capabilities of the
individual groups of prisoners, not measured in relation to each other,
but measured in relation to their needs'.
8th February 2005
Cornelia Rau case
highlights broad systemic failures: Community Advocates
Community Advocates will meet today to explore the broad
reaching repercussions and implications exposed by the Cornelia Rau
" Debbie Kilroy, Director, Sisters Inside
" David Molloy, President, Australian Medical Association Queensland
" Kevin Cocks, Director, Queensland Advocacy Inc.
" Jeff Cheverton, Executive Director, Queensland Alliance of
Mental Illness and Psychiatric Disability Groups Inc.
" Mark Conway, Senior Social Worker, Aboriginal & Torres
Strait Islander Corporation (QEA) for Legal Services
" Susan Bothmann, Coordinator, Prisoners' Legal Service Inc.
" Helen Connor, Chairperson, Australian Mental Health Consumer
Advocates from a diverse range of organisations are calling for an
open and independent inquiry into systemic failures, which have been
highlighted by the Cornelia Rau case.
Engineers Australia Building
Level 1, 447 Upper Edward Street
When: 11:15am to 11:45am
The Cornelia Rau debacle has exposed a cluster of human rights abuses
and systemic failures. Advocates have long voiced concerns that human
rights abuses regularly occur in institutional settings. Vulnerable
people who need care and support are often left to languish on the
streets or in prison.
10 December 2004
QUEENSLANDER WINS PRESTIGIOUS
HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD
The co-winner of this year's national human rights medal,
Queensland prisoner advocate Debbie Kilroy, can no longer carry out
much of her award-winning work because of Queensland Government restrictions.
Ms Kilroy told the award ceremony in Sydney today (Friday)
that the work of her organisation, Sisters Inside, which assists women
prisoners and their families inside and outside prison, had been severely
curtailed by the State's correctives services department just weeks
after she lodged a human rights complaint against the Queensland Government.
The complaint alleged systemic discrimination against
female prisoners, who largely share disadvantaged and abusive backgrounds,
and was accompanied by specific allegations of abuse made by individual
Sisters Inside has provided counselling and assistance
for women and their families for twelve years. It supports children
ensuring they can visit their mothers regularly, provides post-release
support for women who leave prison with few possessions, as well as
sexual assault counselling for the 90 present of female prisoners
who have experienced sexual abuse or assault in their lives.
Women accessing these services have far less chance
of returning to prison. The services benefit women as well as the
entire community, because women are enabled to rebuild their lives
and do not re-offend.
'For most of these women, the notion of human rights
is unheard of. They have lived all their lives believing that have
no rights at all,' Ms Kilroy said.
'Sisters Inside has worked hard to remind these women
of their human rights, and of the humanity. This is fundamental to
us all. I find it incredibly ironic that today I am accepting an important
national award for this work which I can largely no longer do.'
Ms Kilroy has lived the experience of discrimination inside prisons.
Institutionalised as a teenager, she went on - as too many young Australian
women do - to endure a prison sentence inside Brisbane's Boggo road,
where she saw first hand the way prisons perpetuate the cycle of disadvantage,
abuse and humiliation experienced by the majority of female prisoners
in their early lives.
After her release in 1992, she established Sisters inside,
which has since won international admiration and acclaim and the respect
of Australian governments of all persuasions. The Queensland organisation
is celebrated by human rights groups oversea for its successful programs
and its unique structure, which ensures that active involvement of
women inside in al decision-making.
Now, however, that work is threatened. 'Sisters has
dared to raise issues of injustice, has dared to stand up for the
most vulnerable, the most marginalized, the easiest people for government
to criticize and ignore - and we have been locked out of prisons because
we have taken that risk,' Ms Kilroy said.
'The government's actions are clearly designed to halt
our scrutiny of human rights abuses in Queensland prisons. But where
there is no scrutiny there is secrecy, and secrecy breeds abuse. We
won't be silenced.'
Ms Kilroy was awarded an OAM in 2003 for her work, and
last year also won that national community section of the Telstra
Businesswomen of the Year award. She is a qualified social worker,
psychotherapist, and LLB candidate. She lives in Brisbane with her
husband, Joe kilroy. They have two children.
15 October 2001
The Coronial Inquest into the death on 11 September
1998, of Paula Richardson at the formerly private Metropolitan Women's
Corrections Centre (now Dame Phyllis Frost Centre) will resume at
Wednesday 17 October, 2001
Thursday 18 October, 2001
At the Victorian Coroners Court, 57-83 Kavanagh Street,
Over three years there has been 10 days of hearing.
Evidence heard so far:
Paula Richardson 23, was found hanging by a shower
curtain in a management cell at MWCC; she was of aboriginal heritage;
she was given a forced strip search where she was held face down by
4 officers and had her clothes cut off her; she had a history of self
harm; her parents had expressed concerns to the prison; computer records
indicate Paula buzzed up out of the cell she was found hanging in
27 times before she was found.
The last witnesses include the former General Manager
of the MWCC then run by Corrections Corporation of Australia and the
then head of the New Prisons Project in the Department of Justice.
The family of Paula Richardson is being represented
by Brimbank Community Legal Centre Phone 03 93631811 mobile 0421 791