Social worker helped facilitate activities for Mother's Day at Arohata, like this oneA Corrections’ initiative to employ social workers in women’s prisons aims to reduce re-offending and prevent women from returning to prison.

Corrections is acknowledging the social workers, who were employed as part of a $14 million mental health initiative, for New Zealand Social Workers’ Day (Wednesday, 27 Sept).

Around 400 referrals of female prisoners have been made to the social workers in the three women’s prisons (Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility, Arohata Prison and Christchurch Women’s Prison) since the initiative started last November. Four social workers are currently employed and two more are being recruited.

The social workers support prisoners who are mothers, pregnant women, women who have their babies with them in prison, vulnerable young women and others. They are a vital part of Corrections’ new approach to managing women prisoners.

“If women prisoners receive the support they need to turn their lives around, that will have a positive impact on their children, families and our communities,” said Deputy Chief Executive Service Development Jo Field.

“Women have different experiences and needs than men. If we can help them to make positive changes in their lives, then we can set them on the path towards a crime-free life which will also impact their children and wider whanau.”

Research has shown that causes of women’s re-offending includes relationships going wrong, a lack of emotional and practical support, and economic pressures. Two-thirds of women in prison have suffered family violence, rape and/or sexual assault. More than half of women in prison have post-traumatic stress disorder (compared to one in five male prisoners), more than two thirds of women in prison have been a victim of family violence, and three-quarters of women in prison have diagnosed mental health problems.

The new Women’s Strategy focuses on three key areas:

  • Providing women with interventions and services that meet their unique risks and needs
  • Managing women in ways that are trauma-informed and empowering
  • Managing women in a way that reflects the importance of relationships to women

Other initiatives include appointing counsellors at women’s prisons, supported accommodation for women on electronically monitored bail and those released from prison, piloting a healthy relationships programme for women under 25, and the increase in delivery of women’s rehabilitation programmes.

“Looking ahead, we will be upskilling our staff who work with women. We will enhance the industry and education options for women and our programmes and services will be culturally responsive and women-specific, rather than just a replica of what male offenders receive.”

The $14 million mental health initiative also includes increased mental health support for prisoners and community-based offenders, support in transitioning back into communities for prisoners with severe mental needs, and wrap around support for families of offenders receiving mental health services.