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