Women's Prisons at Boggo Road 1921-82

In 1921 the female inmates of Boggo Road were moved from their brick cellblocks (which afterwards became No.2 Division) to a timber dormitory building just outside the prison walls. This had formerly been the VD ward based at the Brisbane General Hospital, which a number of the inmates would have been all-too-familiar with. 

The move was prompted by the fact that their 80-cell prison only had an average daily number of around 14 inmates confined in it - a clear waste of space when the male prisons were full.

GALLERY
Female Division 1921-82 (click to enlarge images)

Aerial view of Brisbane's Boggo Road Gaol, 1929.Aerial view of Brisbane's Boggo Road Gaol, 1956.
Dormitory in the VD Hospital, Boggo Road, Brisbane, c.1943.Prisoners in the sewing room, Female Division, Boggo Road Gaol, 1951.


The 1903 cellblocks had been designed specifically to allow for the separation and better classification of inmates, so it was unfortunate that in 1921 the women were moved back to the 'associated system' of sharing a common ward, although it was claimed that women could still be placed in solitary cells. A former inmate wrote about conditions there in 1935:
'The Home Secretary states, 'No woman is confined in a cell at Boggo Road except as a punishment for misbehaviour.' This is against fact. I was introduced to my cell within 20 minutes of my arrival. It was of the usual type, lighted and aired by a grating very high up. I found two other women in similar cells on each side. There was no question of misbehaviour. Overpius prisoners are certainly put in a ward, also padlocked and without stools. We ate every meal in our cells. There was certainly on the veranda a table and backless benches, but the table was used only for a little Government work and for supporting our mugs and dinner tins, &c, before each took her portion and conveyed it to the cells, which were bolted on the outside, being in addition padlocked every night. I am not here saying that this system is altogether bad. I am merely saying that it exists, I have visited many prisons and never seen cells so narrow and badly equipped. The absence of any sitting accommodation is stupid and a disgrace.'
It had a capacity of 24, but when the female crime rate rose in Brisbane during World War 2 (a result of strict policing of women and their sexual contact with Australian and Allied servicemen), this Female Division was often overcrowded and at one point contained 50 inmates. A new prison farm for women was established in the small town of Marburg in 1944 to help relieve the problem, although that facility then became male-only until late 1945. It reverted to a female prison before becoming an 'inebriate institute' in late 1946.

In late 1950 the women were moved to a 'new' prison on the east side of the prison reserve, behind No.1 Division. Their old timber home was overcrowded and a serious fire risk, and there was now a vacant brick building available for use. This had recently been the VD Isolation Hospital and was no longer required thanks to the advent of Penicillin in treating venereal diseases. Upgraded and converted, it could now house up to 50 inmates and included laundries, separate cells, shower rooms, sewing rooms, and its own administration section. At the time of the move there were about 20 female inmates at Boggo Road.

The Comptroller-General in charge of prisons wrote at the time:
'This section is now much brighter and has had an uplifting morale on the morale of the inmates. The increased space and better facilities allow for the better classification of prisoners.'
The women remained at this place until the 1980s. By that time the average daily number of inmates was in the 40s, and the changing demographic of prisoners that had raised tensions in the male prison during the 1970s was also having an effect in the female prison. In 1978 the Comptroller-General of Prisons wrote:
'Difficulties are being experienced in the existing Female Division which in effect is quite unsuitable for the detention of the types of females presently being received. Apart from the security aspect, I am of the opinion that the existing buildings are a fire hazard, and construction of a new Female Prison should receive all priority.'
This new Female Division (the fourth one at Boggo Road) opened in 1982 and was built on the same site.


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