Why are we sending women with children to prison?

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CPAG welcomes the latest report from the Families Commission Improving outcomes for children with a parent in prison”


The costs for children when a parent is incarcerated are very high, with 20,000 children affected.


CPAG commends the Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (Families Commission) for highlighting a social problem of immense proportions but very low visibility.


Parents who commit crimes are not the only ones who pay when they are sent to jail. The incarceration of a father can have long term detrimental effects on a child’s development. When mothers as principal caregivers of young children are sent to jail the consequences on children can be devastating. This report is a timely reminder of the needs of this neglected group.


CPAG supports the reports recommendation that a review of effective intervention strategies is required.  “But we should also be examining why we are sending mothers with children to prison in the first place” says Hannah Anderson. Hannah is a co-author of a recent CPAG report The complexities of ‘relationship’ in the welfare system and the consequences for children


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In the CPAG report the pointlessness and vindictiveness of custodial sentences for so called ‘relationship fraud’ is highlighted. “Sending a mother to prison is a disproportionate penalty, especially when compared with what happens in cases of tax fraud and yet it happens so frequently”.


“It costs (the) taxpayers over $100,000 to keep a mother in jail for a year, and the cost of placing her children in alternative care as well. The custodial sentence, or even home detention, often makes it impossible for her to earn to meet the repayments demanded let alone care adequately for her children.” says Anderson. “A thorough examination of the whole basis of prosecution for relationship fraud is long overdue. Our policy desperately needs to be aligned with 21st century living arrangements”.


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  1. Does the law ever take into consideration that these women, often abused, have no other option, so they can feed their children when their “partner” confiscates most of the money for his personal use? It sickens me when I hear the remarks of people with no experience of abusive relationships say things like, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” It is because he has shown her many, many times what he is capable of and threatens her of worse, if she leaves. She believes it too, she has first-hand experience of that. Then she would have to live with the fear of him having unsupervised care of the children, when she couldn’t be there to protect them.

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