The WIPAN Mentoring Program
Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles


Practice focus

The process of matching mentors with clients of the program (i.e., mentees) to deliver culturally relevant support and guidance.

Delivered by

Women in Prison Advocacy Network (WIPAN): A Community based non-government organisation.

The information for this Promising Practice Profile was supplied by the Chief Executive Officer of The Malpa Project.

Service type

The program offers women exiting the prison system with a mentor in their community who provides pro-social support and guidance in order to reduce the likelihood of reentering the criminal justice system. The program has the potential to benefit the entire community by reducing the rate of recidivism.

The program is not delivered exclusively for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders: 26% to 50% of the program's clients are reported as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.


Capital city: Sydney


The program offers a gender-responsive post-release program for women exiting NSW prisons to transition back into the community by increasing their social capital and providing a continuity of care that develops positive relationships and socially inclusive connections to the community.

The program was developed in response to a post-release social support gap for women and aims to reduce recidivism. It is a women-only program that responds to the gender-specific needs of women, as there is a general consensus among the program providers that their needs are different and more complex than those of men.

By recruiting and training volunteers from the community, the program builds local communities' understanding of and capacity to respond to complex issues associated with women exiting the criminal justice system. Aboriginal mentees are matched with Aboriginal mentors to ensure practical and culturally relevant support is provided on a one-to-one basis. The program employs 2 part-time staff and coordinates 40 volunteer mentors, (recruited and trained from the community) and then forms mentoring relationships for up to 40 women (at any one time, exiting prison.

The program targets the root causes of women's offending behaviour by providing its mentees with support and rehabilitative services. This is achieved by assisting the women exiting prison, their children and families and ultimately the rest of the community, by aiming to reduce and prevent further crime and/or re-offending.


In 2009 the NSW Office for Women provided initial funding to pilot the program. The pilot commenced in November 2009 and ran until November 2011. It is now an ongoing project and has received 3 x 1 yearly grants from the Office of Women (2009-2012).

WIPAN has relied on extensive in-kind support, including:

  • unions NSW to provide reduced rent of the office space;
  • donations of computers and second hand office equipment from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC); and,
  • ongoing design and printing support from Breakout Media Communications.

Additionally, staff from NSW Council of Social Services, Community Restorative Centre and Intellectual Disability Rights Service have provided ongoing practical assistance for governance and day-to-day operating procedures.The program will continue to operate subject to the organisation receiving recurrent funding.


MOST promising aspect

By providing women exiting the criminal justice system with a community-based support network and increased social capital, the WIPAN Mentoring program enables women to remain in the community and maintain healthy relationships with their children, families and the wider community.

By gathering key stakeholder's input and perspectives, the pilot WMP was designed in a way that was gender-responsive and culturally appropriate for all women exiting the prison system.

Other promising aspects

The WIPAN Pilot Mentoring Program Report outlined the effectiveness of the WIPAN Mentoring program as it was found that the overwhelming majority of mentees felt that their needs were met within the mentoring relationship and believed that the mentoring relationship, in some way, had helped them to stay out of prison. The success of the program meant the majority of mentees remained in the community leading pro-social, productive lives; thus making it a cost-effective solution to reducing recidivism and preventing crime. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison and Indigenous agencies and service providers within the community were engaged during the development and implementation of the program. This ensured it was not only gender-responsive, but also culturally appropriate for Aboriginal women exiting the NSW prison system. The program is innovative in that it is the only program of its kind offering women ex-prisoners in NSW a gender specific mentoring relationship which assists them in their transition back into the community.

Evidence base and opportunities

Mentoring programs have been shown to achieve positive outcomes with various client groups and are particulalry effective when careful consideration has been applied in matching mentors with clients. In WIPAN's case, voluntary mentors initiate non-judgemental relationships with mentees that are based on trust and privacy. The matching process was based on interviews with both groups to establish common elements of their lived experiences and expressed preferences. There were enough Aboriginal mentors to provide mentees with practical and culturally relevant social and emotional support.

WIPAN also drew extensively on the support of a wide range of stakeholders, including Aboriginal Elders and Respected Persons from the community as well as Aboriginaof program. This ensured that existing resources and information was maximised and matched specifically to the needs of Aboriginal women exiting the prison system and their families.

While short- and medium-term outcomes have been demonstrated, an opportunity exists to track the longer-term outcomes of mentees to ensure they remain outside the criminal justice system.

Cultural relevance

Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

Needs were identified through consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, other programs that deliver Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services and through the delivery of the program as clients came through the door.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders worked with non-Indigenous workers to develop the program/practice. WIPAN engaged a number of key stakeholder groups prior to developing the program in order to ensure the specific needs of Aboriginal women were addressed. WIPAN consulted Aboriginal women in prison, various AboriginaI service providers within the community (such as Mudgin-Gal Women's Centre), AboriginaI Elders and Respected Persons from the community. The information provided by these groups was supplemented with consultations from academics in the criminal justice field, the Attorney General Department's Aboriginal Crime and Violence Prevention unit and various other stakeholders.


The program was based on the Community Restorative Centre's StAMP Mentoring program ( which included a focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. StAMP was aimed more broadly at male and female adult ex-prisoners.


Evaluation status

WIPAN recently published a report outlining the progress and effectiveness of the program. The evaluation was conducted internally using quantitative and qualitative approaches. Data were collected from mentors and mentees from the beginning of the program, including an initial assessment questionnaire, a mentor survey, weekly activity sheets, monthly debriefing and training sessions, referrals and mentor focus groups. Other measures looked at historical and present day risk factors for criminal behaviour.

Link to evaluation


Demonstrated outcomes

The core objective of the program is to help women stay out of prison. As of Nov 2011, 82% of women who engaged in the program have not reoffended and have not returned to prison. This is a remarkable result considering 77% of participants have at least five to seven prior custodial sentences, and given NSW has the highest recidivism rate for women in Australia, at 42%.

A total of 61 female ex-prisoners were referred to the program during the 18-month pilot period; 42 women were assessed and 31 of them were engaged and mentored. Of the 20 women who stayed in the program longer than two months, only one returned to prison during the trial period (note that the 20 women have been out of prison for a widely varying number of months so this return rate is not comparable to the usual formal two-year recidivism rates). Of the 11 women who completed less than two months, only three have so far reoffended (a recidivism rate of 27%), although the caveat noted above applies.

Mentees reported that the mentoring relationship helped to increase their social capital, ability to have healthy relationships, feel better within themselves and to cope with life in general. One third felt that the mentoring improved their overall mental state. Mentees also reported that mentoring improved their transition into the community; they realised the importance of having someone in the community to talk to and overwhelmingly agreed that mentoring helped them to make positive changes in their lives by providing them with the support they needed within the community. Almost all the mentees felt their mentoring relationship met some of their needs, including:

  • an inspiring role mode;
  • non-judgmental support;
  • to be heard;
  • to have a friendship that encouraged a sense of self-worth and belief;
  • establishing and fulfilling previously unthinkable goals; and,
  • importantly, they were pleased to have been helped to stay out of prison!
Other evidence

WIPAN have produced other publications which serve as evidence of the program's success, all of which are available on the WIPAN website. The DVD 'Through the Tunnel and See the Light' includes WIPAN mentees' experiences and illustrates how the program has helped them.


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