New pathway for women on parole

RAW (Reclaim Another Woman) is a programme established with the support of the Auckland Regional Women’s Correctional Facility (ARWCR) to aid women seeking change and rehabilitation before they are released from prison and while they are on parole.

Annah Stretten

Recently, some members of the ADLS Criminal Law Committee met with Annah Stretton to discuss the valuable work being undertaken by RAW.

Recent statistics show that ARWCR houses 448 women, some of whom could potentially be reached through the RAW programme (June 2016, Department of Corrections website).

The programme stemmed from an initial concept where Annah Stretton, who is well-known for her designer clothing line, aimed to match mentors with women who had been subjected to domestic violence, crime, drugs and poverty. The mentors were tasked to guide and support the RAW women into a journey of education through the opportunities that were set up by RAW program facilitators.

The RAW pilot scheme then grew into a full “incubator” programme based in Hamilton. The programme relies on a comprehensive six-stage process founded on the values of RAW and seeks to specifically address rehabilitative hurdles that are unique to women. The RAW programme is offered mainly to recidivist women offenders who struggle to reintegrate effectively into society due to the length of their sentence or lack of effective support networks.

The simple aim of RAW is to support and educate women from disadvantaged demographics by enabling them and their children to become contributors to mainstream New Zealand. The RAW philosophy is built on the pillars of compassion, partnership, resilience and strength – these key values support women who are on their journey to live a crime-free life.

Women are often released from prison, with minimal support in place, into the original environment that led them to offend, and are frequently plagued with the guilt of their previous offending. Some of these women are also trapped in abusive relationships without the ability to remove themselves from a dysfunctional family unit.

The representatives at RAW acknowledged this problem and sought to break this cycle from the very start. This included meeting with women whilst in prison to establish a relationship and to gain their trust. In doing so, RAW representatives have stood by their philosophy: “Everybody needs someone who believes in them – the role of RAW is to be that someone.”

Upon working with the RAW representatives, a release plan is prepared and presented to the parole board. This provides the woman with confidence that her future is secured with a concrete plan and that a support network is in place upon their release. Women are advised of the criteria and commitment required by the RAW program before they move onto the next stage after release from prison.

What follows is a period of “incubation” where the women follow through the six-stage process for at least a year. Here, they focus on self-development, with the aim of showing that they are capable of greater trust and the freedom to make decisions for themselves.

This transition phase places greater restrictions on social media and family reconnection in particular. During this time, RAW provides rules managed through a process of rigid flexibility, ongoing individual coaching and support, random drug testing and group accountability to encourage participants to lead a lawful life. Additionally, RAW provides addiction and mental health support where needed. Each woman is housed in a high quality, furnished three- to four-bedroom home, to be shared with other RAW participants.

The applicants are also afforded the opportunity during this time to engage in educational scholarships through Wintec and Waikato University. In order to give each applicant a well-rounded education, they are provided with employment experience, initially through unpaid work experience to develop workplace skills, and then paid work experience through a small number of commercial enterprises. This is followed by part-time placement with other employers, leading ultimately to full-time employment upon completion of their studies.

These opportunities allow the participants to gain confidence in their ability to be self-sufficient and to succeed in a role without relying on others. These women are also encouraged to give back to the community through volunteer work, which is often a healing process to help build their self-esteem. Initial opportunities have included involvement with the Waikato Women’s Refuge and volunteering at various community events.

As the programme progresses, RAW participants are allowed to reconnect with their children and whanau, initially in a controlled manner and, over time, unsupervised and for longer periods (depending on the risks and needs of each participant). This overcomes the common problem experienced by many women released on parole, who neglect their ongoing rehabilitation needs in order to focus on their family.

Although these women may have the best intentions, they are often confronted with the reality of a downward spiral back into reoffending – whereas the RAW approach allows participants to focus on their needs first before turning their focus to their family. With RAW, the participant women are able to first address any underlying concerns that may hinder their progress and then are able to focus on relationships and tasks that may empower them.

On the conclusion of the initial 12 month period, a life plan is drawn up with the assistance of RAW, to encourage participants to achieve the goals they have formed for themselves. The current short-term success rate of release and rehabilitation of RAW women into incubation is 83%. The long-term (one year plus) success rate of release and rehabilitation of RAW women is 100%. RAW has gained credibility with the Parole Board and is developing the same reputation within the court system.

The future of RAW lies in its ability to grow to further assist vulnerable women by drawing on experienced mentors. Recent developments have included a business entrepreneurial incubation project, which opens up the opportunity for companies and mentors that wish to be involved in creating entrepreneurial careers or work opportunities that contribute to the RAW model.

Other opportunities exist to become a part of RAW by either making a donation, hosting RAW as a speaker at events or sponsoring a woman on her path to self-development.

The ADLS Criminal Law Committee looks forward to working with RAW on current and future initiatives.

Additional information on RAW can be found on its website www.raw.org.nz, or on its Facebook page www.facebook.com/reclaiminganotherwoman.

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