The prison system’s revolving door

One of Kilroy’s motivators for creating Sisters Inside was understanding that the current policing, legal and prison systems are fundamentally flawed when it comes to supporting women.

“Women come to prison who are homeless, poor, have mental health concerns and addictions,” said Kilroy.

“Prisons are violent places that impose another layer of trauma on women, most of whom have already been traumatised by lived experience of violence, racism, child removal etcetera.”

Poverty, a lack of support, and discrimination force already vulnerable women into a revolving door of incarceration, disadvantage, and trauma. Given the billions of dollars spent annually on Australia’s prison system, and its detrimental impact, Kilroy believes serious change is overdue.

“It costs $300 per day to keep a woman in prison,” she said.

“Imagine if that money was given directly to each woman; to pay for safe and affordable housing, to support their children, to pursue education or find stable employment.”

“Imagine if every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman’s descendants were compensated for their stolen wages. Imagine if we provided the same quality of free dental and health care for all Australians, including women and children in prison. Imagine if we funded free, culturally driven trauma support for every First Nations person who wanted it. Imagine if First Nations languages and history were taught in our schools. Imagine if there was sufficient public housing so that no woman or child was homeless. Imagine if we no longer criminalised children.”

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#DefundingPolice and diverting public funds

Following the death of George Floyd in the US in 2020, many began calling for the defunding of police, citing the system’s corruption and racism. Defunding these structures would allow the diversion of public funds to critical mental health, social and housing services, rather than expecting police to be a universal response to all social problems.

Changing the way public funds are used to support the community is how Kilroy believes we can create “a socially just society, where every member’s human rights are met”.

“Every woman should have access to income support above the poverty level and affordable, safe, public housing,” said Kilroy.

“The more we resource alternatives to the carceral system, the less we will ‘need’ to spend on police, prisons and other statutory systems of control.”

The implicit racial biases within every person living in a society founded on white supremacy plays out in the criminal justice system, and it is marginalised women, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, who pay the price.

“First Nations women are far more likely than other women to spend time in over-policed environments and to be on the wrong side of police discretion,” said Kilroy.

“They are more likely to be arrested, charged, detained, imprisoned on remand, and sentenced to imprisonment for the same offences as other women.”