17 Jun Drug dealers turn entrepreneurs in Waikato University course at Auckland women’s prison
Prisoners who have learnt business lessons in drug dealing are being taught how to turn their skills to the good in a remarkable new course at the Auckland women’s prison.
Twenty long-term recidivist prisoners, some of whom could barely read and write, have all passed a Waikato University paper in entrepreneurship which required developing business plans for a variety of products and services in “straight street”.
Fashion designer Annah Stretton, who suggested the project after visiting the women’s prison since 2014 through her social enterprise RAW (Reclaim Another Woman), said many of the women were jailed for methamphetamine offences, which have driven a near-50 per cent jump in female prison rolls in the past decade.
“Most of them have been involved in meth at some level,” she said.
“We are working with one woman who got her business up to $12 million.
“The meth does create an opportunity for women to become quite entrepreneurial. That’s why we are seeing more and more women going to prison – they can generate good returns, and they become quite successful cooks.”
Stretton believes that education is the key to saving the lives of prisoners, most of whom have endured abuse and other trauma before they got caught up in drugs and crime.
“Study is the only thing that will compete with criminal outcomes,” she said.
Starting in collaboration with a women’s refuge in 2013, RAW has opened five houses in Hamilton for women coming out of prison. It enrols them in courses at Waikato University and Wintec, connects them with employers, and helps them to get back their children who have mostly been removed from them by the state.
“We have now had more than 60 through the programme,” Stretton said.
“Most of these women have been in prison most of their life. That is the demographic that Corrections said we believe their behavioural problems are so entrenched that we don’t want to invest any more money in them.”