WAP is a not-for-profit community group, whose members include ex-prisoners and prisoners incarcerated in or involved in the ACT criminal justice system, representatives of various ACT Women’s Services and other interested stakeholders.
Who We Are
As women only make up a small proportion of the total prison population in Australia, prisons are often designed to contain male prisoners and the gender-specific needs of women are overlooked. The ACT is no different. While the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) is unique in that it was designed with human rights principles and legislation in mind and incorporates some women-specific aspects (such as cottage-style accommodation), findings from WAP’s consultations with women inmates and service providers indicate that there are still issues for women prisoners in the ACT.
WAP was formed in 2005, founded by Deb Wybron to formalise arrangements put in place by the ACT women’s services providers. Prior to this there were limited opportunities for women with lived experience of prison to take a lead role in advocating for women. Since then the Group has been supported by the Women’s Centre for Health Matters Inc. (WCHM) and the ACT Council of Social Service Inc. (ACTCOSS) to grow its membership and to build its capacity to support and advocate for women involved in the ACT criminal justice system.
WAP acknowledges that Canberra has been built on the lands of the Ngunnawal people. We pay our respects to their elders throughout Australia past and present, women currently incarcerated and their family and friends.
A future where no women suffer the inhumanity of imprisonment, and a present where women who do are afforded the same rights as women in the broader community.
- Every woman’s voice deserves to be listened to
- Women in prison and women with lived prison experience will provide meaningful input into the direction of the group
- Everyone is entitled to human rights, regardless of any choices or decisions they have made in their lives
- We believe that women are their own experts within their own lives, and are best placed to make decisions and take action about the issues that affect their lives
- We uphold the principles of access, equity and opportunity
- Women’s rights are human rights, and women are entitled to the right of access to equal opportunities and programs in the justice system; as well as the right to justice without fear of prejudice or discrimination
- We believe that women’s health and ability to live healthy lifestyles is affected by social and economic factors known as the “social determinants of health”
To advocate for the human rights of all women incarcerated in or involved in the ACT criminal justice system.
How We Work
The ACT Women And Prisons (WAP) Group is distinguished from other organisations and services within the ACT criminal justice system by our women directed approach. We value the contribution that women with lived experience bring and ensure that they have meaningful input into the direction of the Group.
Women with lived experience of the criminal justice system are better placed than any other organisation or service provider to establish relationships of trust with the women incarcerated in or involved in the ACT criminal justice system; to offer them emotional support and friendship; to understand their unique needs and experiences; and to advocate to ensure that their human rights are upheld and that they are treated with dignity, decency and respect.
WAP uses peer support as a vehicle to build relationships and trust with women so that we can better provide personal and emotional support, hear their views and stories and use these to advocate for them. We are guided by these women in identifying service gaps within the system and possible options to address these, and use this to inform our advocacy.
We provide opportunities and support for women with lived experience to actively contribute to WAP’s work. Our advocacy role is focused on educating stakeholders about the needs of women with lived experience of the criminal justice system. WAP sees the criminal justice system as not just about Justice or Corrections, but as requiring a whole of Government approach.
WAP is not a service provider. We work in partnerships with the formal providers, and build and maintain strong relationships with a wide range of stakeholders because we understand that no one service can provide the diversity of practice that is required to meet the needs of all women.
Meeting the needs of female prisoners
Female prisoners are different to male prisoners because of biological and life circumstances. There are a number of important characteristics of women prisoners and their offending behaviour that need to be considered in the development of prison policies and practices.
- Women commit fewer and less serious crimes than men and are therefore less of a threat to others (Women’s Health Victoria, 2008)
- It is well documented that women prisoners are much more likely to be solely responsible for the care of children and the maintenance of a home than male prisoners, which means that when a woman is imprisoned children suffer and the home is lost (Ibid)
- Women prisoners are highly likely to have experience sexual abuse. Some research has shown that as many as 89 percent of women in prison have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lifetime (Sister’s Inside Inc, 2005)
- Women prisoners are more likely to self-harm (AIHW, 2009)
- Women experience a higher level of psychological distress in prison than men (Ibid)
- Aboriginal women are hugely overrepresented in prison (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2010)
Because of their gender, women have different needs. They require care that addresses their reproductive health, histories of abuse and status as primary providers and carers of children. As women only make up a small proportion of the total prison population, prisons are often designed to contain male prisoners and the gender-specific needs of women are overlooked. WAP plays an essential role in highlighting health inequalities for women prisoners as a minority within the criminal justice system.
What We Do
Women who are, or have been, incarcerated represent one of the most marginalised groups in our community. They are disproportionately affected by homelessness, violence, sexual assault, mental illness, substance abuse and poverty. The discrimination they suffer as a result of the stigma associated with incarceration further undermines their ability to integrate back into the community.
The ACT Women and Prison’s (WAP) Group operates under the social determinants of health model to support these women during one of the most distressing periods of their life and is an essential part of the criminal justice sector in the ACT. Through lived experience the Group provides emotional peer support to women inside and outside prison in order to advocate for better outcomes for women incarcerated in or involved in the ACT criminal justice system. There is no other organisation in the ACT that has this expertise.
The ACT Women And Prisons Group:
- Challenges the injustices for women incarcerated in or involved in the ACT criminal justice system face
- Monitors and advocates for holistic, gender focused, human rights practices for women
- Is instrumental in effecting and sustaining positive, constructive and systemic changes within the women’s prison
- Lobbies for the rights of all women incarcerated in or involved in the criminal justice system
- Is committed to working in partnership with organisations paid by Government to work with women involved in the criminal justice system
- Supports individual women in line with the objectives of the ACT Women’s Plan
- Provides opportunities for women with lived experience of prison to contribute to WAP
WAP has detailed and active policies in relation to confidentiality, resolving disputes, prison visits and de-briefs.
WAP’s Useful Links
ACT Corrective Services (ACTCS)
(ACTCS) adult falls under the ACT Department of Justice and Community Safety delivers adult correctional services in the ACT
Alexander Machonochie Centre (AMC)
The AMC has been operational since 2009 and is the ACT’s adult correctional facility. It is the first prison to be built and operated under Human Rights legislation and can house up to 300 prisoners. Approximately 20 of these are female. WAP visits the AMC to provide peer support to female inmates.
Prisoners Aid ACT
Prisoners Aid offers support and a referral service to prisoners, their friends and families and people charged with offences in the ACT.
ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS)
ACTCOSS is the peak representative body for not-for-profit community organisations, and disadvantaged and low-income citizens of the ACT. ACTCOSS is the auspicing agency of WAP.
The Women’s Centre for Health Matters Inc. (WCHM)
WCHM is a community-based organisation which works in the ACT and surrounding region to improve women’s health and wellbeing. WCHM is the auspicing agency of WAP.
The ACT Office for Women
The Office for Women is a small policy coordination and development unit located within the Community Services Directorate. The Office works to enhance the status of women in the ACT and in doing so, assists in the creation of a community where women are safe, healthy, equally represented, and valued for their contribution to society.
ACT Human Rights Commission
The ACT Human Rights Commission was established in 2006 to promote and protect the and wellbeing of all people living in the ACT.
The ACT Ombudsman investigates complaints about the administrative actions of Australian Capital Territory Government agencies and public education providers. Members of the public can make a complaint to the Ombudsman about the actions and decisions of ACT Government agencies.
Bimberi Youth Justice Centre
Bimberi is the ACT’s new youth custodial facility. The Centre is managed by the ACT Department of Disability, Housing and Community Services.
Sisters Inside Inc.
Sisters Inside Inc. is an independent community organisation based in Queensland, which exists to advocate for the human rights of women in the criminal justice system, and to address gaps in the services available to them. Their website provides extensive information on human rights and women prisoners. WAP is inspired by Sisters Inside and its founder Deb Kilroy.
Women In Prison Advocacy Network (WIPAN)
WIPAN is an advocacy-based organisation in NSW managed and directed by a united group of professional women, including ex-prisoners, dedicated to the pursuit of advancing the human rights of women caught up in the criminal justice system.
WAP’s Documents and Resources
The following section contains a list of WAP documents, submissions by WAP to consultations and reviews, and other relevant submissions by our partners. These documents are copyright. Permission is given for unrestricted non-profit viewing and use via the Internet. Material in the Website may be reproduced provided the organisations and individual authors are acknowledged.
WAP’s Strategic Framework 2011-14
WAP’s Strategic Framework was developed at strategic planning workshops which were held in late 2010 and early 2011 to review the Group’s progress, set practical priorities, and explore future directions.
WAP and WCHM Joint Submission to the ACT Human Rights Commission’s Human Rights Audit and Review of Treatment of Women at AMC, June 2013
WAP and WCHM Joint Submission to the Review of Bimberi 2011, April 2011
WAP and WCHM ACT Budget 2011-12 Joint Submission, December 2010
WAP and WCHM Joint Submission to the Review of the Alexander Machonocie Centre (AMC), September 2010
Invisible Bars: The stories behind the stats
The development of the report Invisible Bars: The stories behind the stats was one of WAP’s most notable and influential achievements, and was developed in conjunction with WCHM. The report presents the stories of ACT women with lived prison experience and provided significant insight into the impact that imprisonment and institutionalisation has had on these women’s lives. Its release occurred at a pivotal time in the ACT with the Alexander Maconochie Centre, the first prison in the ACT to accommodate women, having recently opened.
Independent Reviews of the AMC
An independent review of the first 12 months of operation at the AMC was conducted and Knowledge Consulting was engaged to review governance matters relating to advice provided to Government on the drug testing of detainees on admission to the AMC.
The final reports on both reviews were tabled in the Legislative Assembly in April 2011.
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