Sisters Sitting Sentences
IHATA Shelter for Abused Women and Children Female Prisoners’ Outreach Programme
In South Africa, there are roughly 4 000 female prisoners1. World wide it is estimated that 57% of female prisoners are victims of domestic violence, while 53% experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child2. Worcester Female Correctional Facility houses 10% of these women.
IHATA Shelter is proud to host the Sisters Sitting Sentences programme once a month at Worcester Female Correctional Facility. Here we are able to work with women who have committed petty and serious crimes. The main aim of our programme is to shift paradigms so that the women do not re-offend.
Link between abuse and crime
Research conducted by the Wits Justice Project show the strong links between women’s experience of domestic and sexual abuse and the coercive partner relationships that lead them to commit crime. Female prisoners in focus groups stated how often, they committed crimes such as shoplifting, selling drugs, stealing cars and prostitution over prolonged periods of time in order to support a partner, father, brother or husband’s drug use, until they were trapped in a cycle of victimisation and crime3.
Without programmes that specifically target women’s abusive pasts and show them what healthy relationships look like, female prisoners risk getting trapped in a habitual revolving door of recidivism4.
Sisters Sitting Sentences, the female prisoner outreach programme run by Ihata Shelter for Abused Women and Children, aims to help women like these break the cycle, and transition from prison and their previous existence to leading a more constructive life.
Once the women are paroled, IHATA Shelter offers them a stay for a period up to 6 months or until they are able to reintegrate into society. We teach them skills to survive in a world where those with a criminal record are not easily employed.
The programme which takes the form of monthly workshops, role play, group sessions and simulations, takes a holistic approach to repairing the female prisoner’s self esteem, creating self awareness and accountability, and reintroducing them to basic life skills such as conflict resolution and anger management.
The challenge arises where female prisoners struggle to accept that they need to shift their mindset in order to see change. Used to a routine of unhealthy and self-harming actions, most are initially resistant when presented with a new way of living, especially if they have a chance at failing.
They internalize the labels placed on them such as “prostitute”, “thief’ or “criminal” and see themselves through those lenses. Sisters Sitting Sentences works to help them remember that their offences are something they did, it is not who they are and does not define them.
Sisters Sitting Sentences is spearheaded by Nuraan Osman, Director of Ihata Shelter for Abused Women and Children. She works alongside Joshwin Taurijo and Shehaam Aziz, both previous offenders who have turned their lives around.
Nuraan is a facilitator for World Vision, consults to Islamic Relief, lectured at the University of Cape Town, is part of a team leading HIV training throughout Africa and other developing countries, and is an internationally recognised spokesperson on the topic of Gender Based Violence.
- World Prison Brief, http://www.prisonstudies.org/country/south-africa
- Prison Reform Trust, http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/PressPolicy/News/vw/1/ItemID/494
- Wits Justice Project, http://www.witsjusticeproject.co.za/
- Prison Fellowship, https://www.prisonfellowship.org/resources/training-resources/in-prison/prison-culture/needs-of-female-prisoners/