Sisters Inside

Sisters Inside has received funding for a large number of short term projects and activities – only a few highlights of particular significance have been included here.   Also, current Sisters Inside programs which were previously funded under different names are not included here.

Past Programs for Women  

Particularly notable early projects included:

 

  • Domestic Violence Research Project – this short (6 month) project in 1994 is included because of its historic significance.  In 1993 a woman had returned to her violent partner following release from prison, and was killed within days.  Her death (and apparent lack of knowledge of support services) was the impetus for this, Sisters Inside’s first piece of research, which was funded by the (then) Queensland Department of Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs.  In addition to undertaking research into women prisoners’ experiences of rape, incest and domestic violence, the project aimed to improve criminalised women’s access to DV information and resources.  Women prisoners directed and designed the project alongside the 2 researchers.  The project was extended through (state and federal) arts funding to include mask-making workshops and production of a video.  This participatory research approach led to increased awareness about DV and circulation of information amongst women prisoners.  The project report (The Women Behind the Walls) was substantial and made 24 recommendations (including the need for DV counsellors - for First Nations and other women in prison).   The video (Inside the Walls) featured a mock trial of domestic violence, which some women still remember today.
  • 2 Release Kits – were produced in 1997-8.  One was written for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women prisoners; one for other women prisoners.  These pouches included practical and service information (mainly pamphlets) about the wide range of issues faced by women post-release – everything from housing to parole; from using banks to transport maps.

 

Women In Prison Journal - allowed academics, government, women in prison, service providers and interested others to publish articles about current trends and research in relation to women and girls in adult and youth prisons. This bi-annual publication began in 2000 and was distributed nationally and internationally.

Programs funded for 12 months or longer:

The Insider Newsletter (1995 - 1999): The Insider was written and produced by women prisoners.  Workshops were run to help women develop the necessary computer skills to produce this bi-monthly newsletter. The newsletter provided practical information relevant to women prisoner (e.g. dates of parole sittings) and enabled communication between women in the different prisons across South East Queensland.  The Insider was distributed to all women prisoners, and was warmly received.

Women Inside Living & Learning Project (1999-2001): The WILL Program aimed to reduce the (high rate of) transmission of the Hepatitis C Virus amongst women prisoners in South East Queensland, and to provide harm minimisation strategies to women with HCV.  The program was a result of Sisters Inside research which found that over half the women’s prison population had injected drugs whilst in prison.

Women’s Transition Program (1999 –2004):  Over the 2 years prior to establishment of this program, 20 women had died shortly after release from prison (from drug overdose, suicide or domestic violence).  The Transition Program aimed to reduce the rates of self harm, death and injuries, and the number of women returning to prison.  This program was provided by 2 workers, one of whom was a First Nations woman.  They supported women exiting prison (and their families) prior to and following release, including ensuring women had identification, accommodation and transport upon release.  A detailed evaluation of its first 12 months of operation (1999-2000) by James Finn found that the program worked with 403 women, of whom 341 were released and survived (no deaths) and only 9 women returned to prison.  Following program defunding in 2004, both recidivism and death rates rose again, and Sister Inside repeatedly lobbied unsuccessfully for transition support funding.  (It was only in 2019 that we received funding to provide this service to women leaving Gatton.)

Personal Support Program (2002-2006):  The P2P was an employment support initiative funded by the Australian Government.  It enabled Sisters Inside to provide intensive support to women for up to 2 years following their release from prison.  This was a very flexible program, which could include everything from getting women emotionally and practically job-ready, to supporting them to access relevant training, to assisting them to apply for jobs.

Work Pathways Program (2004 - 2018): Our Work Pathways Program supported individual criminalised women in Brisbane to find a job and/or access education or training.  Many women had very negative experiences in the education system, so the program also ran a Certificate 1 training course, to give women the confidence to consider further education and training, and to develop a better understanding of the workforce.  At the same time as this program for women ended, a new program for young women (Youth Skills) was funded under the same Queensland Government funding program.

A Place to Call Home Homelessness Prevention Project (2006 - 2007): This major 18 month National Demonstration Pilot Project assisted women pre- and post-release to access accommodation and support services in Townsville and Brisbane.  At the same time, it researched and documented the housing needs of criminalised women.  The Project integrated a Participatory Action Research process throughout, which enabled women themselves to actively contribute to development of the Sisters Inside model of service. (Now called Inclusive Support, this model continues to underpin all our programs and services.)  Both the evaluation of the project and our model of service are available in the Research Hub at https://sistersinside.com.au/research-hub.

Special Circumstances Court (SCC) Support Program (2007 - 2010): For 3 years, this program helped divert women charged with minor offences from the prison system.  Queenslanders who were homeless or dealing with mental health/substance abuse issues were eligible to choose this alternative to appearing before a regular magistrate in the Brisbane Magistrates Court.  All women appearing before the SCC were offered support to access the services they needed through Sisters Inside workers, instead of being fined or imprisoned. The program worked with a total of 240 women and had a 96% success rate in diverting women from prison.  Program funding ceased with the demise of the SCC following a change of government in Queensland in 2010.  A detailed evaluation is available at https://sistersinside.com.au/research-hub/research-library/sisters-inside-publications/services-programs

321 Transition Support Pilot (2010 – 2011):  This 18 month project aimed to help criminalised families break their patterns of criminalisation and establish an improved life for all members.  A worker provided highly intensive support to whole families of 3 criminalised women in SEQ.  321 referred to the period of involvement with each family – beginning with dedicated support for 3 days per week for 3 months; then 2 days per month for 2 months; then 1 day per month for the final month.  Who was included in the “family” was decided by the woman, and could include up to 15 family members.   Support was provided to meet any/all individual family members’ needs.  Perhaps the most important, and unique, feature of this project was the significant amount of brokerage funding available – sufficient, for example, to pay significant vehicle, housing or education costs.  Despite enormous success over both the short and long term, Commonwealth Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) fund only ever intended to fund the pilot as a demonstration project.

Day2Day Living (D2DL) Program (2010 - 2019): This program focused on providing support to criminalised women with mental health issues, which are often exacerbated by the trauma of imprisonment.  In addition to mental health information, referral and support, our D2DL Program in Brisbane offered support in all aspects of women’s lives including (individual and family) referral to services (e.g. housing, counselling and income support).  The program also linked women up with education and support programs at Sisters Inside, to give them the opportunity to gradually connect with other people and build their confidence in re-engaging in wider community life.  The program ended when the Australian Government stopped funding all D2DL programs nationally, with the advent of the NDIS.

 

 

Past Programs for Mums & Kids  

A notable example of a short term project for mothers and children was:  

Joshua’s Books (2000) –a set of 4 books written by a 12 year old boy whose mother was in prison when he was aged 3 – 6.  Each book targets a different age group.  They focus on the trauma, grief and loss children experience due to their mother’s imprisonment.  These books were used widely in our work with children for many years.  They also provided mothers, caregivers and other service providers an insight into the needs of these children, from a child’s perspective.

Programs funded for 12 months or longer:

Kids of Mums in Jail Program (periodic funding 1996 – 2010):  The program ran camps for women prisoners and their children during school holidays.  The program never employed full time workers.  From 1996-2000 funding was episodic; from 2000-2003 the program receiving ongoing funding; then the program returned to episodic funding.  Ultimately, camps became part of the BOWS program.  These child-focused camps included development of parenting skills, enabling mother/child contact, providing a safe environment for the children, issues surrounding family separation, post-release family support information, promoting children’s rights, and providing information and support about combating abuse at home.  2003 was a typical year - 75 women and 104 children participated in the program. 

Program Enabling & Empowering Kids Program (2003 – 2010): PEEK was an early intervention program which aimed to prevent intergenerational cycles of criminalisation and build protective factors amongst criminalised mothers and their children.  The PEEK Program worked with women prisoners in SEQ and their young children (aged 0 – 5), providing pre and post release to ensure positive reunification on the family unit.  It provided a range of services including a parenting program, 5-day reunification programs and individual counselling and support.  

Indigenous Arts/Circus Program (2003-5): This program used arts-based workshops (across Brisbane and in Townsville) with criminalised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children to explore issues of domestic and family violence.  Action Research was integrated into the workshop process.  Ultimately, the program worked alongside women and children to produce 3 DVD’s.  These national resources have all aired on NITV many times.  The resource for children explored abuse and used “5 fingers” to identify people they could trust whilst mum was in prison. The resource for mothers was based around a joke about having an “escape plan” – how to make a plan to get out and stay out of a violent situation.  And, the resource for (government and non-government) workers focused on 10 tips from criminalised women themselves about how to work effectively with women and children affected by DV (e.g. Look at me … don’t look at your screen!)

Past Programs for Young People  

A notable example of a short term youth project is:  

  • Domestic Violence Prevention Month Activities (since 2017) – has funded the Girls’ Art Group to undertake activities for Domestic Violence Prevention Month (e.g. 6 weeks of informal discussion about DFV, leading to poster design in 2017).

Programs funded for 12 months or longer:

Youth Crime Prevention Program (1999-2000): This program enabled a group of young people whose mothers were in prison to participate developing a pocket-sized resource kit – In the No.  The program was driven by evidence of the high rates of suicide, self-harm, homelessness, substance abuse, school exclusion/suspension and living in violent environments amongst this cohort of young people.  The kit addressed issues that were raised for these young people while their mums were in prison and provided information about (then) organisations that could provide support.  The program also included activities to enhance participants’ self-esteem and confidence including canoeing, white water rafting, ropes courses, art workshops and camps.  The program won an Australian Institute of Criminology crime prevention award in 2000.

Crying Walls Project (2000 - 2002): This Drug and Alcohol Primary Prevention Project was funded through the National Illicit Drug Strategy Community Partnerships Initiative fund for over 2 years.  The project educated young women prisoners about the effects of drug and alcohol use and/or misuse with particular focus on harm minimisation; the social, physical and mental effects of drug and alcohol use (particularly intravenous drug use); and alternatives to drug and alcohol use.  The program was delivered through Problem Based Learning Modules, group counselling sessions and individual follow-up, counselling and support. Over a 2 year period, over 250 young women participated in the program.

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