International Women’s Day 2024: Why it’s time to invest in women in the criminal justice system

Today marks International Women’s Day 2024, and this year’s theme is ‘Invest in women: Accelerate progress’.

Caroline, one of our lived experience members, joins Policy Manager Kelly Grehan to write about the reasons women get caught in the revolving door of crisis and crime and what needs to be done to divert women out of the system.

As we mark International Women’s Day in 2024, under the theme ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress’, Revolving Doors is calling for investment in services and approaches that divert women out of the criminal justice system, for in their empowerment lies the key to a brighter, more equitable future for all.

It is imperative to shine a light on a critical yet often overlooked issue: the plight of women who find themselves entangled in the criminal justice system, not because of inherent criminal tendencies, but due to unmet health and social needs. At Revolving Doors, we are committed to addressing this challenge and advocating for change.

The reality faced by many women in the criminal justice system is heart-wrenching. A significant number of them are imprisoned for non-violent offences, often driven by circumstances such as poverty, abuse, addiction, and mental health issues. It is a stark reminder that what they truly require is not punishment, but support and resources to address their underlying challenges.

As lived experience member Caroline says:

“Many women who become involved in the revolving doors of crisis and crime have experienced significant trauma and abuse throughout their lives, including domestic violence and sexual assault. This trauma can lead to substance abuse, and mental health issues which push women into criminal activities, as they don’t know how to cope with their emotions. Additionally, economic struggles can drive women to engage in criminal activities such as drug-related offences or theft, as a means of survival.”

The impact of imprisonment on women is devastating, extending far beyond the individual to their children, families, and communities.

Over half of the women in prison receive sentences of less than six months, a duration too brief to rehabilitate but long enough to disrupt their lives and the lives of their dependents. The cycle of imprisonment and re-entry becomes a barrier to their ability to secure employment, housing, and regain custody of their children, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and instability.

On International Women’s Day, Revolving Doors pledges to intensify our efforts to support these women. Our Women’s Forum is clear in its focus: to advocate for policy and practice reforms that favour rehabilitation and community support over imprisonment for non-violent offences.

Caroline says:

“Addressing the challenges women face requires comprehensive reforms prioritising prevention, rehabilitation, and alternatives to short-term prison sentences.

This includes trauma-informed approaches to community-based treatment programs which include mental health and substance misuse support. This extra support for women in the community will help women address the root causes associated with their behaviour and involvement within the criminal justice system.”

Investing in women means recognising their potential and addressing the barriers that hinder their progress. It means creating pathways for them to access the health and social services they urgently need. By doing so, we not only empower women but also contribute to the well-being of their families and the broader community.

It is our privilege to support our inspiring, diligent, Women’s Forum as they tirelessly drive forward the causes of justice and systems change, using their valuable lived experience to forge a better, brighter future for themselves and other women still caught in the revolving door.

This International Women’s Day we celebrate our female members: as bold, bright proof that investment works, and transformative change is possible.