Women go from jail to the streets

Vonny Roche says women who did not have family waiting for them when they get out of jail are left with nowhere to go.
Vonny Roche says women who did not have family waiting for them when they get out of jail are left with nowhere to go.

Taranaki women being freed from prison are ending up on the streets because of a lack of emergency accommodation.

Vonny Roche, of Prisoner's Aid and Rehabilitation Trust Taranaki, said women who did not have family waiting for them when they got out were virtually left with nowhere to go.

"If they don't have their family there to absorb them back in, then they don't have any options," she said.

"At that stage, they can't get a job to establish themselves, they can't get a benefit to establish themselves until after a couple of weeks, and they can't afford rentals or backpackers."

Yesterday's confirmation that New Plymouth prison will close would not make the already alarming situation any worse for women, said Ms Roche.

She said she had recently encountered cases where women had been sleeping on the beach, in doorways, or going back to unstable environments unwillingly, because they had little choice.

"I mean, they get off the bus and then where do they go?

"These people have created their own problems, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't matter, the issue is still there.

"How is it helpful to the community to have people on the streets? At the end of the day it's not good for the women and it's not good for the community."

In the 2010-2011 financial year, 82 women were sentenced to imprisonment from Taranaki, and 31 were freed, and managed by community probation services.

Ms Roche said stress was a large contributor to reoffending and coming out of jail with nowhere to go imposed a huge amount of stress on these women.

"Everyone's objective is to try and reduce reoffending, so we're all on the same page there.

"The only way people can work towards making positive changes is if they are treated well."

New Plymouth has one emergency shelter for those fresh out of prison, however, last year this accommodation was restricted to men only.

Ms Roche said that decision was made to cater for the larger number of men in need of the service.

"If women go into the shelter, they need their own rooms, which decreases the number of men that can be there."

Having women and families at the shelter also meant it was not possible to send highly vol-atile men there who might not be appropriate within that situation.

Ms Roche said though changing this process had streamlined things for men, she regretted the change every time she was confronted with a homeless woman.

"What the public sometimes doesn't understand is that these women don't qualify for Women's Refuge. That's for women who are in immediate danger from men hurting them."

Ms Roche said if they had the funds to expand the shelter, they would. However, that was not a viable option at this stage.

"All we need is a small flat with two or three beds for these women, then, once they get their benefit they can start looking for other places to go."

Ms Roche said the men's emergency shelter was a fantastic service, and to have something similar for women, although the cases were not as frequent, was urgent.

Corrections Department chief executive Ray Smith said the department was concerned by the limited resources available in Taranaki and was looking into creating a reintegration centre in the province for men and women next year.

Taranaki Daily News