Women prisoners guided beyond violence.

The National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) is piloting a prison-based rehabilitation program specifically designed for the treatment of violent women offenders in Western Australia.

Women in prison are no longer sidelined. Photo: Matthew Henry.

The program, Beyond Violence, was created in response to the lack of gender specific rehabilitative programs and treatment for women inmates in the prison system.

The chief investigators for the trial, Dr Mandy Wilson and Dr Jocelyn Jones said, women still represent a minority of the larger prison population and, as such, most of the programs and treatments are tailored for men.

“It’s very often that programs that have been developed for men are slightly modified, maybe a pronoun in the program will be changed from a he to a she,” Dr Wilson said.

“Often there’s that assumption that what works for men works for women,” said Dr Wilson. However, research suggests different issues lead to the incarceration of male and female offenders.

Women only make up 8 per cent of the prison population. However, statistics show that they are growing population with more than a 50 per cent increase in the decade ending 2018.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

Recent statistics show that 40 per cent of women who were in prison or awaiting sentencing were there due to acts of violence. A large proportion of these women committed violent offences in retaliation against violence perpetrated against them or as acts of self-defence, Dr Wilson said.

The prison-based pilot is being conducted in Bandyup Women’s Prison and Boronia Pre-release Centre for Women. The trail has recruited 117 women, with a matched sample as a control group, to complete the trial, Dr Wilson said.

It is hoped that the primary outcome of the program will be a reduction in recidivism. However, the trial also aims to help women dealing with anger management, substance abuse, and mental health symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The 10 week program is just about to begin its second round, with feedback from the first group being positive and helping refine the content for the second round.

While only 3 per cent of Australia’s total population is made up of Indigenous people, Aboriginal women are over-represented in the prison system, making up 57 per cent of Western Australia’s female prison populace. Because of this an Aboriginal psychologist and reference group was brought in at the start of the trial to ensure it was culturally appropriate.

The five year funded project is set to be completed in December 2021. However, the researchers will track participants through administrative data for 10 years after they are released, Dr Wilson said.

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