Legal Education and Advice in Prison (LEAP) for women
Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles

Overview

Practice focus

The promising feature of this program is the use of Indigenous staff in advocating for Indigenous women in the prison system while facilitating appropriate care arrangements for their children and families.

Delivered by

LEAP is delivered by three community legal centres: Wirringa-Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre; Hawkesbury-Nepean Community Legal Centre; and, Women's Legal Services, NSW.

www.wirringabaiya.org.au
www.hnclc.net.au
www.womenslegalnsw.asn.au

The information provided for this Promising Practice Profile was supplied by the Executive Officer at Women's Legal Services, NSW.

Service type

LEAP provides legal advice, advocacy, representation and support to vulnerable women in prison with high and complex needs who are at risk of re-incarceration, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

The women are generally victims of domestic and family violence and sexual assault and often have a mental illness and/or substance abuse issues. They also struggle to retain contact with their children and extended family.

The aim of LEAP services is to provide systemic advocacy within the Corrective services system to improve the quality of conditions for women.

Location(s)

LEAP is delivered in three community legal centres across the outer and inner metropolitan areas of Sydney, NSW.

Description

LEAP is a pilot program that aims to facilitate access to civil and family law services for incarcerated women, particularly Aboriginal women. It has been operating across the Women's Legal Services, NSW, Hawkesbury-Nepean Community Legal Centre and Wirringa-Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre since early 2009, and has been drawing from the core resources of those three centres as there has been no dedicated funding. The pilot LEAP has been principally providing monthly legal advice sessions, follow-up services, some community legal education, case work and representation to the three women's correctional centres in metropolitan Sydney: Dillwynia, Emu Plains and Silverwater.

LEAP service providers also have representation on peak advocacy bodies to further the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison who are at risk of re-incarceration.

Resourcing

No funding has been provided for the pilot LEAP service. The service draws from the resources of the three centres that operate the service.

Practice

MOST promising aspect

Legal advice and education for women in prison enables them to identify and understand the human rights abuses they have suffered and to access support and counselling to begin their healing. This may reduce the effects of post-trauma mental illness, substance abuse and thus reduce the likelihood of re-incarceration. LEAP's advocacy for the women in working with the NSW Department of Families and Community Services assists the women to maintain contact with their children and to be involved in decision-making about their children's care arrangements. Ultimately, the combination of providing direct support for women while partnering with other agencies to facilitate additional support helps to strengthen families.

Evidence base and opportunities

Employing existing Indigenous staff to design and deliver the service to be culturally appropriate is effective in helping to build trusting relationships between staff and Indigenous clients. Non-Indigenous staff also undertake cross-cultural training to assist in representing their Indigenous clients, which also provides the service with a capacity to understand the specific needs of Indigenous clients and to provide culturally appropriate responses.

Establishing good relations with the NSW Department of Families and Community Services helps to provide LEAP with a greater capacity to advocate for clients' care arrangements for their children. This not only helps the Indigenous women to feel more empowered through having been involved in the decisions surrounding their families, it also prioritises the health and wellbeing of their children.

Currently LEAP is resourced only to provide services to women across three metropolitan prisons, and it has not been evaluated to demonstrate how the program can and does positively impact on Indigenous women, their families and their communities. The opportunity exists to fund an evaluation of the program to demonstrate the program's effectiveness, while providing an understanding of how and where the approach could be adopted. Above all, an evaluation of the program would build the evidence base around what works to support Indigenous children with incarcerated mothers more effectively, and to increase the overall health and wellbeing of Indigenous people more broadly.

Cultural relevance

Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

The pilot service was developed in equal partnership with the Aboriginal Women's Legal Service and non-Aboriginal community legal services with Indigenous women's program staff, including the Indigenous Women's Legal Program Officer.

Under the pilot service model, two solicitors attend the three prisons on a monthly basis; one solicitor to provide advice to Aboriginal women and another to non-Aboriginal women. Aboriginal women are assisted by one of the specialist services (Wirringa-Baiya or the Indigenous Women's Legal Program) and thus ensure the delivery of a culturally appropriate service.

Cultural practices and materials

Indigenous staff guide the service's design and delivery and they facilitate contact with Indigenous clients. However, non-Indigenous staff are provided with cultural awareness training as it is necessary for them to be culturally competent in working with and representing Indigenous clients.

Evaluation

Evaluation status

An evaluation was prepared for Legal Aid NSW as part of LEAP's attempt to obtain funding for the project. However, the evaluation report is not publically available and Legal Aid NSW would have to authorise its disclosure.

Effectiveness

Demonstrated outcomes

It has not been possible to measure the intended outcome of reducing the incarceration of Indigenous women or of maintaining family relationships more effectively during and post-incarceration because there are no resources to undertake follow-up research. LEAP works effectively in partnership with Indigenous and non-Indigenous women in a co-operative form of service delivery. Without funding for the project it is difficult to sustain and can only reach three metropolitan prisons. It is hoped that the service can, in the future, be resourced to provide a state-wide service.

 

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