A lack of funding could see New South Wales’ sole NGO mentoring organisation for post-release female prisoners to cease by November.
Kat Armstrong, with the help of three other women, set up Women In
Prison Advocacy Network (WIPAN) in 2008 after witnessing discrimination
first-hand after she left prison. Ms Armstrong said: “We came together to form WIPAN because of the major gap that currently exists for women pre and post-release from imprisonment, in terms of mentoring and for their wellbeing and prospects.
“The women in prison are a minority and a lot of them fall through the gaps in terms of housing. They have high rates of mental health issues, they are usually primary care givers and lose their children. 84 per cent of them are victims of domestic violence.”
The Haymarket based organisation needs $280,000 per year to operate, enabling the mentoring of approximately 30 to 40 women a year and assisting another 40. WIPAN has a success rate of 82 per cent in keeping women engaged in the program for a year or more from returning to prison.
Given that the recidivism rate for women in Australia is at 42 per cent, and costs over $72,800 per woman per year are to be incarcerated, WIPAN argues that through preventing re-offences, the government saves substantial money.
Brett Collins is the coordinator of Justice Action, a prisoners action
group. He said WIPAN reduces social costs to the community, as well as
financial costs. “They [released prisoners] have an almost impossible task of reconnecting to families, becoming independent, getting jobs and surviving. The cost of having people excluded and rejected is
a big drain on our community.”
Under the Labor government, WIPAN received three one-off funding grants from then Minister for Women, Verity Firth. Since Prudence Goward came to office, the domestic funding pool has been modified, making WIPAN ineligible for funding.
WIPAN has also lobbied the Minister for Disability and Minister for Mental Health for funding, but has been rejected. “They all say ‘this isn’t our area. You need to go the Attorney General because this is to do with women in the criminal justice system’,” Ms Armstong said.
A spokesperson for Greg Smith, NSW Minister for Justice said: “The
Women In Prison Advocacy Network has been encouraged to apply for
funding from Corrective Services NSW under the next round of the
Community Funding Program.”
However the Community Funding program does not commence until
2014, leaving WIPAN stranded for more than year.