As the number of female inmates in Newfoundland and Labrador reaches a "historical high," a prison expert says it's important to examine why so many people are being incarcerated despite decreasing crime.

Rose Ricciardelli

MUN professor Rose Ricciardelli is an expert on prison systems. (MUN Department of Sociology)

Rose Ricciardelli, a professor of sociology at Memorial University who specializes in prisons, said she was "shocked" to hear the news on Tuesday that 14 women would be moved to Her Majesty's Penitentary.

"The fact that it never happened before and there's a need for that was quite surprising," Ricciardelli told the St. John's Morning Show Wednesday.

It also shows the desperate measures that need to be put in place to deal with the situation," she said. 

Ricciardelli also said that the move to HMP could make life harder for some inmates.

"If these are individuals who have spent much time in the prison, or are from the west coast or the Clarenville area, they're displaced from their family and their supports even more so."

Prison not helpful for inmates, expert says

Ricciardelli said it's most important to understand why the justice system is incarcerating more women, while crime is actually on the decline.

She said that incarceration does very little to help offenders change their behaviour, especially in provincial jails where a maximum sentence is two years.

"Prison doesn't serve a positive purpose for individuals," she said.

"We should be doing things to try to find ways to help them reintegrate and change their path rather than just sending people to prison."

Move to HMP 'temporary'

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons announced Tuesday that due to a "sharp increase" in inmate numbers at the Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville, 14 women will be temporarily moved to Her Majesty's Penitentiary.

HMP Her Majesty's Penitentiary

Sociologist Rose Ricciardelli said putting offenders in prison for one or two years does very little to help them change. (CBC)

Ricciardelli said it is not clear what "temporary" means, and doubts that government could find a solution in the near future.

"A lot of people could be on very, very short sentences or be remanded, but at the same time I don't know what they could do in a month and a half to try to change this," she said.

"We're dealing with a situation that isn't ideal and everyone recognizes that. But they're dealing with a high in incarcerated women and they need to do something."

Overcrowding dealt with differently for men, Ricciardelli says

Ricciardelli said that officials are often much more comfortable putting two, three, or even four men in a cell together when there is overcrowding.

She said officials are much less likely to put women together in cells, however, because of the concern they will form intimate relationships, which is not allowed.