This week will see RAW’s (Reclaim Another Woman) pilot incubator home open its door in the Waikato.
The home, which will house up to five women who are either on probation or at the end of their sentences, aims to transform their lives by equipping them with essential life skills and in turn breaking the alarming cycle of family violence, repeat offending, poverty and disadvantage in New Zealand.
Supported by the Corrections department, RAW’s incubator home is the brainchild of RAW founder and fashion designer Annah Stretton. Together with her team, Annah has been working inside Wiri prison as part of the RAW programme for several months and identified a flaw in the current prison system.
“New Zealand has one of the highest rates of recidivism in the world. The prospect of a newly released woman finding her way, other than in the life of drugs, crime and violence that she came from, is nothing short of a miracle and we all know these cases are extremely rare,” says Annah.
“Often when a woman leaves prison she will have no fixed abode, no money, no prospect of a job and absolutely no engaged or long term support. She is used to confinement and rules and is often clean from the influences and disruptions that initially got her jailed, but will soon return to the old ways she knows out of necessity and boredom.
“There is nothing to assist these women with the change they often want to effect, nothing to give them a choice they so desperately want,” explains Annah.
Inside the RAW incubator home women will be taught to cook, grow food and plants, housekeep, budget to the importance of personal hygiene, fitness and health, parenting and collaborative behavior. Education is fundamental to the programme with Annah already securing scholarships for the woman through WINTEC, where they will be guided through selected degrees and diplomas.
“To put an inmate through education on the outside in a disciplined and supported home, guided by rules, as agreed by the inmates, with a no-strikes- your-out policy, is an exciting prospect for this country and these socially excluded women,” Annah says.
RAW was launched in February 2014 and was initially set up to provide choice through education and lifelong tiered support through a mentor to women from disadvantaged demographics. These women largely consisted of young Maori who had been born into the country’s gangs, living a life of drugs crime and violence. They were identified as they entered Woman’s Refuge to seek respite from their turbulent lifestyles.
The model worked and one year on, RAW now has close to 40 highly functional women who have been successfully matched with a mentor who is assisting them on their new life journey of education and helping transform their lives. The programme is also seeing great intergenerational changes as the women’s maternal instincts are being reignited and with that, a determination they will not allow their children to walk the wrong path.
Annah adds: “For RAW it has been a massive year of learnings, flexibility and outcomes, as we have developed and advanced the model and aligned with the relevant support networks, NGOs and government organisations. RAW has transformed the lives of the 40 women on the Waikato pilot, we have achieved very real outcomes where in the past these excluded populations have been unlikely to get any change.
“Originally working only with women on the outside we quickly identified that incarcerated women also were a likely fit for the RAW model, in that they too clearly formed part of the disadvantaged demographic.
“Working alongside Corrections, RAW gained entry to the Auckland women’s prison and started to make some unprecedented inroads with the inmates. To date, 50 women have applied to be considered by RAW in the prison. The goal of the organization is to work with the women pre-release to guide them into strong educational choices and on exit, they are then relocated and introduced to the RAW tiered model of support, to continue the RAW journey.
“We have carefully selected the women taking part in the programme who understand that they are committing to a year that is solely about their permanent change. The incubator house will be free of drugs, violence and in turn disruption. The rules of the house have been set by the woman taking part in the programme.”
“At the end of the year, RAW will assist them into their own housing, connect them back with their families and continue their education or seek employment (where qualified) while they continue on the RAW journey, which is lifelong,” says Annah. For further information on RAW please visit: www.raw.org.nz