The CSNSW Women's Advisory Council (WAC) works on issues that relate to women in custody and those under supervision in the community. The underlying goal of the Council's work is to contribute to the reduction of the numbers of women in custody and to achieve better outcomes for women in the correctional system.
Issues raised by the Council include access to health services including specialist counselling, the impact of incarceration of women with dependent children, assistance for women in custody to understand legal information and staff training in understanding the effects of trauma.
The Principal Advisor Women Offenders is the Executive Officer for the Council.
In recognition of the high number of women in custody who have experienced violence including childhood sexual assault and domestic violence, a pilot of counselling services has commenced in two correctional centres: Dillwynia in western Sydney and Wellington. Victims' Services Counselling is available to all NSW residents who have experienced violence within NSW.
The pilot commenced at Wellington in May 2012 at two days per week, to accommodate the larger population and includes male and female inmates. In September 2012, a third day of counselling has been provided to meet the increasing need for the service.
The aim of the counselling is to address previously unaddressed issues that may be contributing factors in pathways to offending. Participation may also assist engagement in offence-related programs.
Women in custody have indicated that they have difficulties understanding court proceedings and outcomes, legal letters and other communication. In order to address this need a partnership has been established with Women's Legal Services NSW, Wirringa-Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre and Hawkesbury Nepean Community Legal Centre. A Legal Literacy Program is being developed, integrated into the literacy provision of the CSNSW Adult Education and Vocational Training Institute. It will be co-facilitated by legal representatives.
A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed with the Ministry of Health's Education Centre Against Violence, the Mental Health Coordinating Council and DAGJ Victims' Services. The aim of the partnership is to develop staff training in trauma-informed practice. This will enable staff to identify and understand the short and long-term impact of trauma particularly in relation to mental health. The training will assist staff to develop skills in managing and working with offenders with trauma symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder and other social, psychological and biological issues. The training will include a component on vicarious trauma to assist staff in managing the impact of working with people with these symptoms
Submissions to the NSW Law Reform Commission Review Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999
The Council has also commissioned research and publications: