26 Apr Family violence – Criminal Justice Expert’s Desire for Change
08 APR 2016 — BY LAWNEWS
Recently, Law News was invited to attend a Criminal Justice Forum hosted by the Auckland Women Lawyers’ Association (AWLA).
Prompted by the Government’s release of public discussion document “Strengthening New Zealand’s legislative response to family violence” last year, AWLA assembled leaders from different areas of the criminal justice sector to share their opinions and experiences on how to address this multi-dimensional problem.
The impressive panel of speakers at the forum comprised Manukau Crown Solicitor Natalie Walker, Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue, newly-appointed Solicitor-General Una Jagose, Police Superintendent Tusha Penny, Labour MP Jacinda Ardern and entrepreneur and founder of “Reclaim Another Woman” (or “RAW”) Annah Stretton, with barrister Anita Killeen acting as Chair.
Panellists spoke to the topic from various perspectives – be it prosecutorial, judicial, policy, police, or social justice – and touched on proposed legislative changes, the approach of the courts, and new initiatives targeting domestic violence.
Making a difference
Rounding out the evening was businesswoman and entrepreneur, Annah Stretton, whose charity “RAW” (which stands for “Reclaim Another Woman”) is making a huge change in the lives of the “invisible demographic” of recidivist female offenders. Inspired by RAW’s maxim “If you can’t help 100 people, then just help one”, a part of the forum’s attendance fees were donated by AWLA to RAW.
If it seems somewhat unusual for a fashion designer to end up working at the coalface of crime and domestic violence – with women from gang backgrounds for whom violence was normal – you only have to hear her speak to realise her passion for helping a sector of society that many have forgotten. “While women’s refuges are ‘working in crisis’, I wondered, ‘Who’s working in change?’” Ms Stretton said. “So I started to think about women’s prisons.”
The RAW pilot involves an “incubation model” whereby women exiting Waikato Women’s Prison on parole come out into a RAW home, where they stay for a year. During that time, they go through a re-education process, with no connections with their past life. “They need to make a break with what has been their ‘normal’,” says Ms Stretton. RAW found that it was crucial to have this kind of fixed time period and structure in order to get women to buy-in and commit to change – otherwise it is too easy for them simply to go back to their old lives.
After a year, the women move on to a second-tier home, before eventually transitioning out to more independence. As part of the programme, the women run a hospice-type charity store which raises funds for RAW, and many are also studying towards university degrees. “I’ve uncovered some delightful surprises, and have been able to break down a lot of the stereotypes and stigmas,” says Ms Stretton.
So successful has RAW been at breaking the cycle for these women that it is now in talks with corrections and probation staff at Waikato Prison about having its own wing there, where it would work with women on the inside before they come out into one of the incubation houses.
“This is a demographic we’d forgotten about. It’s about looking to change their lives, all about the total outcome. We are bringing the mums back into the family – when the mums start to become functional again, the family does also. I want to get this change for the women, the mums and the children.”
Ms Stretton encouraged everyone to think about what they could do – to find something they are passionate about and do something towards making a change – and her own example is certainly proof that, with enough will, this can be done.