Spike in­fe­male pris­oner num­bers

Upper Hutt Leader - - FRONT PAGE - JARED NI­COLL

A pop­u­la­tion boom of fe­male pris­on­ers has been blamed on a spike in drug-re­lated of­fend­ing.

As it stands there are al­most as many women be­hind bars in a sep­a­rate unit at the site of the Rimu­taka men’s prison in Up­per Hutt as there are in the re­gion’s women’s prison in Tawa.

A na­tion­wide rise in the num­ber of fe­male pris­on­ers - in­clud­ing those on re­mand and sen­tenced - has seen fig­ures burst from 497 in 2009 to 812 as of last Mon­day.

Of these, 109 were at Aro­hata Prison in Tawa and 103 at the Aro­hata Up­per Prison - a re­opened self-con­tained unit at Rimu­taka Men’s Prison.

Welling­ton-based de­fence lawyer Seth Fraser said many of the women got mixed up with metham­phetamine.

‘‘They are steal­ing for money for P, or are on P and they do ridicu­lous things.

‘‘A lot of them are not re­ally main of­fend­ers, they are more aux­il­iary of­fend­ers, for ex­am­ple, they are cov­er­ing for some­body who is prob­a­bly male.’’

Fraser said he had seen cases were women had hid­den drugs or para­pher­na­lia on them­selves, in­clud­ing one women he hid metham­phetamine in her bra.

Fe­male of­fend­ers could also bring more chal­lenges for the jus­tice sys­tem than men.

In Porirua, for ex­am­ple, many were young with chil­dren.

‘‘Go to the courts and you will see lit­tle kids there, they some­times have to wait all day with their mums for the mat­ter to be called.

‘‘If prison is be­ing con­sid­ered, the court does con­sider if they are look­ing af­ter kids and who will look af­ter them - ab­so­lutely.’’

One of his clients was ‘‘bor­der­line’’ fac­ing prison time, but avoided it as she was the main care­giver.

The two most con­cern­ing is­sues in­volved mums who were dis­qual­i­fied from driv­ing be­cause trans­port­ing kids gets hard, and when mums got com­mu­nity ser­vice be­cause they can­not have the kids on site.

‘‘How­ever, I must say judges are get­ting very good at taking the kids into ac­count these days.’’

De­tec­tive se­nior sergeant Grant Fer­gu­son, of Porirua, said had seen a ‘‘shift in crime by women’’ to­ward more vi­o­lent of­fend­ing over the last two years.

There had been a con­cern­ing rise in ‘‘woman on woman’’ vi­o­lence, at times by groups of teenage girls such those caught on video punch­ing and kick­ing a girl in the head at Creek­fest ear­lier this year.

He em­pha­sised what was hap­pen­ing in Porirua was hap­pen­ing around the coun­try.

‘‘I don’t know where the gen­e­sis of it is; if it’s from the in­di­vid­ual’s home - I don’t know if it’s home in­flu­ence or com­mu­nity in­flu­ence.’’

Staff had be­gun work­ing closer with lo­cal col­leges to iden­tify early any po­ten­tial is­sues to pre­vent a young per­son be­com­ing an of­fender or a vic­tim of crime.

‘‘Of­ten there’s un­der­ly­ing is­sues that need to be ad­dressed, and can only be ad­dressed by so­cial work­ers.’’

A Corrections spokesper­son said two-thirds of pris­on­ers had suf­fered fam­ily vi­o­lence, rape or sex­ual as­sault, more than half had post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, and three-quar­ters have di­ag­nosed men­tal health prob­lems com­pared to 61 per cent of men.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion be­gan de­vel­op­ing its Women’s Strat­egy 2017-2021 last year, and has so far in­tro­duced so­cial work­ers into women’s prisons, trauma coun­sel­lors, and re­hab ser­vices de­signed for women among other ini­tia­tives.

Jus­tice ad­vo­cate Roger Brook­ing said he sus­pected the rate of fe­male pris­on­ers was in­creas­ing for much the same rea­son as it was for men - the tight­en­ing of re­mand laws.

Brook­ing called on Jus­tice Min­is­ter An­drew Lit­tle to re­peal the Bail Amend­ment Act im­me­di­ately to cut the num­ber of pris­on­ers on re­mand.

The to­tal prison pop­u­la­tion ex­ceeded 10,000 for the first time in 2016. As of Fe­bru­ary, there were 10,695 in­mates around the coun­try.

JARED NI­COLL/ FAIR­FAX NZ

There are now more than 100 women be­ing held in a sep­a­rate fa­cil­ity at the Rimu­taka Prison site in Up­per Hutt.

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