Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Women Exiting Prison: Supporting Successful Reintegration in a Changing Penal Climate

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Women Exiting Prison: Supporting Successful Reintegration in a Changing Penal Climate

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Better Pathways strategy was launched in 2005 by Corrections Victoria in response to a growing number of women entering the Victorian corrections system. In 2011, the Victorian female prisoner population was 322 compared to 248 in 2001, a 30% increase in the population size over this decade (ABS, 2011). In 2012, around 2,200 women were imprisoned across Australia, forming 7.1% of Australia's prison population (ABS, 2012). This proportion reflects international statistics which demonstrate that women tend to comprise a low percentage of the total prison population. For example, the UK Ministry of Justice reported that women accounted for about 5 per cent (or 3,869) of prisoners in England and Wales in March 2013 (UK Ministry of Justice, 2013).

The implications of women's imprisonment are far-reaching. Social and economic costs are incurred not only by the women themselves, but by their families - especially their children - who may experience dislocated and disadvantaged lives. The Better Pathways strategy is a gender-responsive strategy for women offenders, responding to factors both associated with women's offending behaviour and those which affect women's reintegration after their release from prison. Its overarching goals are to reduce women's offending and re-offending, to reduce women's imprisonment, and to reduce women's victimisation. To achieve this, Corrections Victoria committed considerable resources to partnerships between government and non-government sectors to cater for women after their release from prison or on community orders (Corrections Victoria, 2009b). The Better Pathways strategy identified a different approach to managing women's correctional obligations giving greater focus to community supports to assist them with their resettlement in the community for women, and to delivering a more 'holistic' response to women, integrating programmes and interventions with the responsibilities women may have (e.g. carer responsibilities) (Corrections Victoria, 2005). The strategy placed great emphasis on community-based court orders and educating the legal and court systems about the utility of community orders, and their 'fit' with women and offending.

This article reports on the impact and effectiveness of the Better Pathways programmes in reducing women's re-offending. Central to Corrections Victoria assessment of the progress of the Better Pathways strategy is a post-release survey of women exiting the two women's prisons (one, the maximum security prison; the second, a minimum security, regional-based prison). The survey involved interviews with women just prior to release, and at three months, six months and 12 months post-release, commencing with women exiting prison during the six months October 2011 to April 2012. The study aimed also to better understand the characteristics and issues relevant to women released from prison, the breadth of contributing factors that influence successful reintegation, their service use, and their health (including mental health and substance use) and psychosocial outcomes (including housing, employment, family/child custody).

There is negligible research into women exiting prison in the Australian contex; but it believed that although the study is Victoiran, and Australian, in its focus, the women's experiences of prison and post - release are typical of women leaving prison and resonate across the established literature (see Bloom, 2005;2009). The initial findings flagged in this article offer insights into a range of domains and factors that influence outcomes for women after prison: offending behaviour, reintegration with networks in the community, employment, housing, participation in post-release programs, reported physical and mental health issues, alcohol and other drug use (Condon, Hek & Harris, 2008). These are insights which lay the groundwork for policy service provision for women and how these might be funded by government. …

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