At Sisters Inside, we believe
that no-one is better than anyone else. People are neither "good"
nor "bad"; human behaviour is circumstantial, environmental,
transformable and fallible. Human beings are driven by seeking to
have their needs met. However, they are also essentially social and
interdependent; we each need to be connected to other people and community.
The existence of society depends on individuals. Individuals depend
on society. We aspire to a society that meets the social and individual
needs of the full diversity of its members.
Whilst each person has
some opportunity to make choices, our individual and social context
plays an important role in determining the extent of these choices.
"Choice" must be seen in the context of the situation, the
social views being advocated, access to information and the personal
experiences/values/ beliefs of each individual. Whilst women have
the potential to do anything, it is more difficult for us to make
choices when we live in an oppressive and unjust society. This belief
is fundamental to Sisters Inside's commitment to challenging and changing
the context in which women live.
We believe that there is
no "absolute truth", however we live in a society where
"truth", "right" and "wrong" are determined
by a small minority of the population. This group exercises disproportionate
power in all areas of society. In fact, the whole society is constructed
in the interest of this dominant group, which seeks to maintain the
status quo. Maintenance of our current social structure depends on
the existence of a stratified structure, which is unfair to the majority
of its members. This results in imbalances in social and economic
power, including different levels of access to justice for different
members of society.
Because of the economic
focus of our current society, property is more highly valued than
people. Different members of society are of different values. Only
members of the dominant group are consistently valued. They also own
most of the society's wealth.
This small minority maintains
its privilege through a range of indoctrination techniques. Other
social groups are negatively stereotyped. For example, women are typically
depicted as either "mad" (if they do conform to social expectations)
or "bad" (if they challenge these); they are damned if they
do conform and damned if they don't! This promotes the idea that anyone
outside the dominant group is "other", "deviant",
or "a special needs group". In fact, these combined groups
comprise the majority of the population.
A wide variety of means
are used to promote the idea that the privilege of this small elite
is justified - even, the "natural order of things", or "the
only way to run a society". Techniques used include exploiting
the anxieties of the wider population, thus diminishing the humanness
of most groups in society. People just outside the ruling elite are
provided with incentives to contribute to maintenance of the status
quo, in anticipation of joining this social group. Unjust laws and
social rules institutionalise levels of advantage and disadvantage
across the population, and are changed if too many outside the dominant
minority begin to use them in their own interest. In short, the norms
of the dominant group are presented as "natural", "inevitable",
"normal", "true" or "commonsense".
Useful laws are those which
protect freedoms and create social order. Currently the dominant group
defines what "crime" is. If laws were created by and for
the whole of society, they would be more effective in enabling freedom
and order. In fact, our laws often function to criminalise the most
marginalised social groups. If people felt genuinely included in society,
they would be less likely to break laws.
Prisons are an irrational
social response. Prisons do not achieve their intended outcomes -
they neither "correct" nor "deter" law breaking.
In our society, prisons only function to punish and socially ostracise
law breakers. This generates alienation and further criminal behaviour.
It also explains the disproportionate numbers of people from socially
marginalised groups, particularly Aboriginal people, in the prison
Society should resource
prevention of crime through development of progressive social policies,
particularly those that value women and children. We need to recognise
the long term value of preventative strategies, rather than relying
on immediate "outcomes". People who have been through the
prison system are best placed to generate realistic solutions to the
problems of the criminal justice system. This expertise should be
actively valued and encouraged by society. Every member of society
is entitled to have their human rights protected. There is no simple
solution to how this is best achieved. However, in our society, prisons
have been demonstrably unsuccessful in achieving this. Alternative
means must be found for protecting society against destructive behaviour.
A key outcome of imprisonment
is the social alienation of a wider group than simply prisoners themselves.
The children of women in prison are penalised. Children get their
sense of belonging and identity from their connections with their
closest caregiver(s) and/or kin. Disturbance of this process can have
serious consequences in the formation of the adult, including continuation
of a pattern of offending in some families. Therefore, it is impossible
to consider issues related to women in the criminal justice system
without taking account of their children. Further, maintenance of
family relationships is critical to women's capacity to reintegrate
successfully with the community following release.
Values : Why We Exist
Sisters Inside is committed
to changing our unjust social structure. We recognise that the level
of change required to achieve a just society is substantial, and that
change toward this end will be slow. In spite of this, we believe
there is value in challenging social norms through valuing people
over property. We will act in the interest of the majority who are
currently excluded from social power. At present, the structure of
our society reduces the choices available to both individuals and
groups. We are working toward a society which enables people to make
real choices, that is, to have an equal ability to say "yes"
or "no"; to make changes or to choose not to change.
We believe that two key
strategies can contribute toward achieving positive social change.
Both societies and individuals are in a constant process of change.
Any change can be more or less useful. Doing things differently can,
in and of itself, create new positive possibilities in people's minds
- knowledge is power! Consistent, persistent challenge of the status
quo can equally generate productive change. For example, challenging
behaviour that is widely assumed to be acceptable can generate the
community awareness required for productive social change to occur.
We will understand and
promote the common humanity of everyone in society, rather than accepting
the constructs that operate in the interest of the ruling elite. People
have the capacity to learn from experiences of others. We believe
we are responsible for sharing knowledge with those that "miss
out", including women in the criminal justice system. This is
why we are committed to reassuring women that they can exercise some
control in their lives, and convincing them that they can gain from
an improved society. To this end, we will act to achieve positive
changes both within prison "society" and within the wider
social structures affecting women's lives.
Sisters Inside will therefore
act on two fronts - to encourage people to act in their own collective
interests, and to challenge those who are a barrier to productive
social change. Being equally accessible to all women in the criminal
justice system, regardless of their background, is essential to achieving
this. Continuing to constructively critique our society will also
ensure the ongoing relevance of our work. Sisters Inside should be
seeking to effect change, not maintaining the status quo. We will
exploit weaknesses of systems. We will challenge and seek to change
policies, structures, processes and behaviours that treat women unjustly.
The inhuman treatment of women in the criminal justice system needs
to be challenged by everyone who wants to live in a socially just
Sisters Inside should relentlessly
pursue issues of injustice suffered by all women, especially women
in prison and elsewhere in the criminal justice system. We recognise
that social change may come at a cost, and are therefore committed
to making strategic decisions and taking risks to fight for issues
that the organisation feels strongly about. Clearly this will mean
that we will be in conflict with those systems that benefit from the
current situation. We therefore need courage in dealing with conflict
and consequences of conflict as an organisation.
Vision : What We Seek to Achieve
Sisters Inside is a versatile,
powerful organisation. We both strategically advocate for the collective
interests of women in the criminal justice system, and provide services
to address their more immediate needs. These roles function in a complementary
manner - our service provision informs our social change work. Any
potential conflict of interest between these two roles is addressed
through the division of labour within Sisters Inside - the management
structure (including members on the inside) focuses on lobbying and
collective advocacy; staff focus on service provision (which may include
advocacy for individual women).
All our activities will
be informed by a sound social analysis, and strong relationships with
key stakeholders. Our credibility relies on having a comprehensive
information base, providing high quality services and developing sophisticated
social change strategies. We are committed to understanding the prison
system, relevant public policies and the organisational cultures of
government, political parties and other services. We will network
widely, and build and maintain strong relationships with women in
the criminal justice system, flanking organisations and funding bodies.
Both staff and management of Sisters Inside will actively engage with
training opportunities, and contribute to; and participate in conferences
wherever possible. Where our values and visions are compatible with
those of other organisations, we will seek to work collaboratively
to achieve change in the interest of women in the criminal justice
We will be powerful, active
advocates for the unmet human rights of women in the criminal justice
system. We ultimately seek major changes in the position of women
in this system in Queensland. We seek to expose injustices in prison
policies and procedures, exploit contradictions within the system
and demand public accountability from those in authority over women
in the criminal justice system. Our advocacy role is primarily concerned
with educating stakeholders about the needs of women in prison, and
convincing them to act on these needs. Where the necessary reforms
do not occur, we will take on a strong agitation role, designed to
achieve collective, united action. We recognise the risks associated
with coercion as a strategy, and whilst not generally employing coercive
tactics, we remain open to this option as a last resort (that is,
when the situation of women on the inside could not get worse). Similarly,
we will be circumspect in our use of media, ensuring that any use
operates in the best interests of women in the criminal justice system.
Whilst our lobbying role
is designed to address the oppression of women in the criminal justice
system, we recognise that this is a long term preventative strategy.
Women in this system have a wide variety of unmet needs. That's why
Sisters Inside will continue to offer a combination of services designed
to address current gaps in services to women in prison - individual
advocacy, brokerage, programs, activities, workshops, referral, crisis
support, counselling and group work. Our advocacy for individual women
in the criminal justice system will be framed by an open bias in their
favour, and a commitment to achieve fair outcomes for our clients.
Our brokerage role will include enabling information flow between
women in prison, collecting stories to inform our collective advocacy,
and enabling women in the criminal justice system to make complaints
arising from breaches of their human rights. The emphasis of our direct
services will be driven by the expressed needs of women in prison
and will include support in the transition from prison to the wider
community and assistance to keep women out of prison.
All our service delivery
work will function from a firm and consistent ethical base. This includes
a particular focus on confidentiality with our clients, acknowledgment
of all women's experiences as valid, and functional and financial
accountability of the highest order to our funding bodies.
Role : How We Function
At Sisters Inside we seek
to retain our existing strengths as the organisation grows.
We have found that building
and maintaining sound relationships between members of our governing
structure on the inside and the outside has provided a firm foundation
for our effective functioning. Given the difficulties inherent in
enabling women on the inside and outside to work together within our
management structure, we will continue to recruit like-minded women
to fill any Management Committee vacancies. We will also seek to maintain
a range of competencies and experiences amongst women centrally involved
in the organisation, including women who have previously done time
and women with political experience. It is through this network-based
approach that we will continue to retain a committed staff and low
turnover at both a staff and management level.
Loyalty, honesty and trustworthiness
underpin all our actions. We will maintain strong relationships between
women on the inside involved with management of Sisters Inside, and
the rest of the organisation, through recognising the loyalty relationship
between women currently on the inside, and those within the organisation
who have previously been in prison. Our commitment to the organisation
is reflected in our willingness to hang in there when times are difficult,
to name and process organisational issues as they arise and to focus
on big issues for the organisation even when they are not our personal
priorities. Our proven track record in being up-front and consistent
at all levels in the organisation has been critical to our success.
We will only continue to deserve the trust of women in the criminal
justice system for as long as we walk the talk, protect the emotional
safety of these women and maintain confidentiality. We recognise that
valuing the expression of passion and strong emotion are not a usual
feature of community organisations, and will therefore explain their
role at a management level to women who become newly involved with
Sisters Inside is distinguished
from other services within the prison by our women-directed approach.
We are committed to believing women in the criminal justice system,
treating their experiences as valid and working from what they say
they want. We are guided by these women in determining service gaps
within the system and designing services to address these. All our
strategies are assessed according to their impact on women in the
criminal justice system, and their possible consequences for these
women. That is why Sisters Inside acts as an autonomous body within
the prison system. We are driven by the needs of women in the criminal
justice system, rather than by the expectations of prison authorities,
the criminal justice system, governments or the wider society. This
places us in a unique position to genuinely act in the interest of
women in this system - to make strategic judgments about when and
how to use our power and challenge any illegitimate exercise of power
by the criminal justice system.
Sisters Inside will continue
to treat women in the criminal justice system with respect and dignity
regardless of their race, cultural background, sexual preferences,
class or age. We will advocate for similar treatment of women by systems