Sexual Assault Program – Inside SEQ Prisons – The vast majority of women prisoners have lived with violence – with most having experienced childhood and/or adult sexual assault. When Sisters Inside was first established, women prisoners identified sexual assault counselling and support as their highest priority need whilst in prison. Our first funded program, this service was established in 1994. Since then, Sisters Inside has continuously had 2 full time sexual assault workers providing counselling and support in all women’s prisons in SEQ. This program is highly successful and has supported over 3,500 women prisoners.
Anti-Violence Program – Inside Gatton & Townsville Prisons – Almost every woman prisoner has lived with violence, and often this has contributed to her imprisonment. In 2019, Sisters Inside received funding to provide counselling and support in all women’s prisons outside South East Queensland, similar to the Sexual Assault Program but with a wider focus on all forms of violence against women. This program mainly provides individual (crisis or longer term) counselling with women prisoners who have experienced domestic and family violence and/or sexual assault, or related issues arising from imprisonment. The program also occasionally runs educational and support groups about violence with women prisoners. Since early 2019, we have had two full time Anti-violence Workers in Townsville and one in Gatton.
Health Support Program (HSP) – Outside Prisons in SEQ & NQ – Criminalised women have poorer health than women in the general community, with many living with chronic health conditions and complex health needs. Our HSP Workers offer support to improve the health and wellbeing of criminalised women and their children. We work alongside women to identify their health needs; provide referral to medical, mental health and drug and alcohol services and practitioners; and provide the practical support they need to attend appointments (e.g. transport). We also support women to improve their social and emotional wellbeing (e.g. assistance with housing, employment or income support). The HSP particularly focuses on supporting women in the first month after their release, and working with women with complex health needs. Since 2017, we have had two workers based in Brisbane (covering SEQ) and two workers in Townsville (who also provide outreach services to North, Central and Far North Queensland).
Supreme Court Bail (SCB) Support Program – Inside all Qld Women’s Prison –Approximately 40% of all women prisoners in Queensland are on remand, with many being refused bail due to homelessness or lack of community mental health services. Since 2003, Sisters Inside has supported women to apply for Supreme Court Bail – for many years as an unfunded program (jointly with University of Queensland legal students and graduates). More recently, the Queensland Government has funded this program in Townsville and South East Queensland (since 2016) and in the new women’s prison in Gatton (since 2019). Our SCB Workers interview women prisoners to assess their eligibility for Supreme Court Bail. Eligible women are supported to make application to the court, with the SCB Worker available in court to provide advocacy and support. Other Sisters Inside workers often help women to make arrangements to apply for bail (e.g. housing) and offer support following release. Since 2003, the program has had a 100% success rate amongst eligible women.
Next Step Home (NSH) Program – Inside and Outside Prison in NQ – Too many women end up returning to prison due to homelessness. Since 2018, this pilot program has supported eligible women prisoners to move straight into secure housing when released from prison. 15 head-leases are provided by the housing department each year, and priority is given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women being released on parole. Our NSH Workers support eligible women prisoners to apply for this housing; maintain their tenancy for a year; and arrange ongoing independent tenancy after the initial 12 months. We also support other criminalised women in North Queensland to find housing.
Decarceration Program – Outside Prisons in SEQ – This program aims to reduce the number of women in prison, particularly on remand, throughout South East Queensland. Since early 2019, our three Decarceration Workers have supported women being held in police watch-houses and/or appearing in court to improve their likelihood of a successful bail application. This includes ensuring women’s access to suitable and stable housing, legal representation, community-based services and support. We also offer advocacy with police, court authorities to optimise the likelihood of a successful bail application. They may also provide post-release support via outreach to enable women to continue to meet their bail (or parole) conditions.
Gatton Re-Entry Program – Inside and Outside Prison– The majority of women prisoners have been in prison before and it is clear that lack of support during the transition from prison contributes to high return rates. This Program aims to reduce the number of women who return to prison. Since early 2019, our three Re-entry Workers have supported women prisoners for up to 3 months’ pre-release to identify and arrange to meet their post-release needs. On the day of release, we make sure that each woman’s immediate survival needs are meant (e.g. transport to accommodation, access to food). We then provide individual and family post-release advocacy, referral and practical support for 6 months, and arrange support for longer for women who want this. This includes supporting women to meet their (often competing) obligations to statutory authorities (e.g. Probation & Parole, Centrelink and Child Safety).
Parole Support – Inside all Women’s Prisons – Many women stay in prison beyond their parole date. The service supports women in all women’s prisons in Queensland in relation to parole and sentencing matters. Established in 2019, our Parole Support service ensures that women can address their post-release needs whilst in prison; leave prison as soon as possible; and successfully stay out of prison following release. This includes helping women to navigate the corrections system – assisting with their parole applications, arranging accommodation and other essentials for getting parole, advocating directly with the Parole Board, explaining the parole process to women, and helping women follow up parole applications or rejections. We also support women who breach parole and respond to parol suspensions. (Support for women in NQ is available via phone and SIS workers in Townsville.)
Advocate (Bluecard) – This program aims to increase the number of criminalised women who are approved for a Blue Card throughout Queensland to gain employment. Many criminalised women are refused a Blue Card, even if they have lived successfully in the community for many years. This precludes them from paid employment in education, childcare and similar premises (whether or not their job involves direct work with children and young people). It also limits women’s ability to volunteer in areas such as sporting or cultural activities, and to become a foster carer. Lack of a Blue Card particularly impacts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and communities, because it severely limits the pool of people available to be kinship carers and to run community activities.
Advocate (Deportation) – Increasingly, criminalised women who are not Australian citizens are being deported following completion of a prison sentence. This includes women with dependent Australian children. This is due to the combined effect of an exponential growth in the number of women in prison, and the greater ease with which the Minister for Home Affairs can cancel their visa. Since its enactment, the Migration Act 1958 has included provisions to cancel Australian visas on character grounds. However, since December 2014, policies have been implemented that make it easier for people to fail the character test. One way of failing the character test is to have a substantial criminal record. A criminal record is now considered substantial if someone has one or more prison sentence(s) totalling 12 months. A total of 12 months imprisonment can be readily accumulated through convictions for minor, non-violent ‘crimes’, such as street offences associated with homelessness.
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The Sisters Inside Fund for Children supports children of women in the criminal justice system to choose their own future free of the burdens so commonly felt while their mother is in prison.
#Free Her Campaign
This campaign has been set up by Debbie Kilroy, CEO of Sisters Inside Inc. The funds raised will be used to release people from prison and pay warrants so they are not imprisoned.