By Bernadette Thomas
Every day, an increasing number of women are sent to prison, and women’s representation within the criminal justice system is increasing at an alarming rate, with indigenous and migrant women represented in disproportionate numbers. In Victoria the number of women in prisons has grown by 43% in the five years to 2017 (latest figures available by the author), compared to 23% in Aotearoa/New Zealand; by comparison the rate in England and Wales has fallen by around 15%. This is due to the rising number of women who are held in remand because of tougher bail laws.
A local program, Women and Mentoring, initiated in Collingwood and now operating in the western suburbs, is responding to these statistics by providing volunteer mentors to women in need.
Women and Mentoring is a community-based program that offers a ‘one to one’ supportive relationship for women engaged within the criminal justice system. Currently Women and Mentoring works with women appearing at the Sunshine, Heidelberg, Melbourne, Frankston and Neighbourhood Justice centre Magistrate’s courts.
Women appearing in the criminal justice system are often victims of crime themselves. Women’s offending largely correlates with broader systemic issues based upon gender discrimination and include; poverty, victims of violence and the responsibilities of sole parenting.
The affects these experiences have on women, are represented within statistics that demonstrate high levels of mental health and substance use. Mental health issues often are a result of significant experiences of trauma and complex disadvantage, whilst substance dependency and misuse, is often a measure taken to ‘self-medicate’ mental health issues that arise from the trauma experienced.
Women and Mentoring’s volunteer mentors offer a professional relationship that is stable, reliable and consistent. This relationship can combat the social isolation that comes from fractured family relationships many women have experienced, providing a safe space for women to talk about what they have been through, identify areas in their life they would like support with and decide upon the appropriate specialist community services that can help support their rehabilitation.
Women and Mentoring currently supports women across Brimbank, Wyndham, Maribrynong, Melton and Hobsons Bay. Recruitment is underway to meet the increasing demand for mentors from across the Western suburbs.
So, if you are 18 years or older, a woman, live in the western suburbs and have 2-4 hours a week to support another woman in your community we’d love to hear from you.
Sharlene Farrugia is Mentor Program Coordinator for Women and Mentoring