Academic journal article Hecate

Focus on Women in Prison

Academic journal article Hecate

Focus on Women in Prison

Article excerpt

Introduction

I have been asked to write an Introduction for the group of articles included in this edition focusing on women in prison. These articles are from the State, National and International Women in Prison Conference hosted by Sisters Inside in November 2001 at Brisbane, Queensland Australia.

Sisters Inside is a community organisation that began in 1992. We are a group of women who work with women in prison. Our Management Committee which includes a Steering Committee is made up of women in prison, ex inmates and other interested women from the community who want to challenge the injustices of incarceration of women in prison and their children and families. Sisters Inside's Management members include indigenous women, women from non-English speaking background and young women. We believe it is important to be representative of the population of women in prison. Sisters Inside's Management Committee and Steering Committee meets regularly in the prison and identifies gaps and high need areas within the prison system and then aims at resourcing these needs through different government funding bodies.

Sisters Inside is an organisation that is overseen and managed by women for women. The organisation emphasises the value of the knowledge and experience of women in prison. We recognise the expertise of women inside to identify their own needs, both within the prison environment and in transition to the general community. All Sisters Inside's programmes are underpinned by the considerable experience of women inside, and the information that women inside have about prison culture and systems.

Sisters Inside exists entirely for the benefit of the women in prison; its staff and culture are not an end in themselves. Sisters Inside focuses on needs identified by women in prison not the needs of the organisation and its staff. The Values and Vision statement of Sisters Inside asserts that the organisation is woman directed. We are committed to valuing women within the prison system and trusting the judgement of women inside to know what they want. Sisters Inside is autonomous within the systems, that is to say, we are directed by the needs of the women and not the needs of the criminal justice system.(1)

Sisters Inside's Mission Statement states:

Sisters Inside is an independent community organisation which exists to advocate for the human rights of women in the criminal justice system in Queensland, and to address gaps in the services available to them. We will work alongside women in prison in determining the best way to fulfil these roles.

From many discussions with women in prison a fundamental identified need has been that we, women in prison, have a voice about who we are and what our needs are. This has been crucial to empowering us by having a voice and being heard. A voice that is rarely if ever heard in the broader community. The conference was an opportunity to ensure that this need of the women and Sisters Inside would be fulfilled.

Initially readers need to be aware of the women's prison culture to try to understand what women experience whilst incarcerated and why it is crucial that the women have a voice and that they be heard by you. The culture within the prison walls that women live in, day in day out, is their survival. It is a multi faceted, complex and dynamic system and it is impossible to present a complete picture in a short introduction article. Therefore, I will present a broad synopsis as a starting point, as a basis for you to begin to understand the complexity.

On entering the prison you are inducted into this culture, you are usually unaware of the process. Your crime and length of sentence will usually determine where you are placed within the culture. It will prescribe how you will survive or not survive your prison sentence, whether you are accepted by the prison system or ostracised by the women and correctional officers, named Screws in this culture. …

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