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Chain 246Working with young women in prison

A look at Kahaila-Reflex

Young female offenders and ex-offenders in particular are in desperate need of positive role models, new skills, new opportunities and new aspirations in order to move forward into a positive future and stay out of prison. This is largely due to the complex and traumatic pasts that they have lived through:

  • 31% of women in prison were taken into care as a child,
  • 53% of women in prison reported experiencing emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child (compared to 27% of men)
  • 46% of women in prison report having suffered a history of domestic abuse.
  • Around 40% of women in prison left school before age 16 – 10% before the age of 13
  • 30% were permanently excluded from school (compared with 1% of the general population).

These experiences mean that many women in prison have often fallen behind in a number of areas of life, including education and skills, and have very low confidence and self esteem – which leaves them stuck in cycles of re-offending without any hope or real prospects away from a life of crime.

Young women in prison can be difficult to engage - their behaviour is often the most challenging of the prison population, they have the highest levels of self-harm, attempted suicide and mental health needs and as a result they can end up missing out on opportunities available to them.

In 2012, Kahaila - a café church based in East London - joined with Reflex - a national youth offending charity - to try and have a positive impact on women in London prisons, with a specialist focus on those aged 18-30. 

Kahaila-Reflex work with young women in prison and the community; equipping them with new life skills and empowering them to move forward into a positive future. They have found that building positive, trusting relationships with young women while they are in prison is key to being able to offer them support upon their release. If that trusting relationship is not there, it is difficult to maintain ties with them when they are back in the community.

Through mentoring, outreach, chaplaincy support and accredited life skills 'MyLife' courses, they have supported over 300 women since 2012; each one vibrant, talented, unique and with a great deal to offer society. 

Take Louisa's story. She completed a one-to-one MyLife, Managing Emotions, course with Kahaila-Reflex in prison. She left school at age 10, had no qualifications and was unable to read and write before coming to prison. This young lady became the first prisoner in the country to receive an accreditation for the course and she completed it to such a high standard that her work is now being used as an example of good practice for others to aim for. This was a massive achievement for her. She was so proud of herself when they delivered the certificate to her that she began dancing round her room!

MyLife courses are based on subjects and themes that young offenders themselves have expressed an interest in. For example, Managing Emotions; Relating to Others; Independent Living – Independent Growth; and Money. The courses are accredited which means the women’s work can be recognized by potential employers upon release. It is different to other courses because its values are not only based around promoting the external development of life skills, but it also focuses on the internal growth of character that contributes to lifelong learning and stops offending behaviour. It allows space for the young offender to tell their story, share their experiences, and express how they hope to move forward with their life positively.

Reintegrating back into the community after spending time in prison is a hugely difficult transition to make. The challenge is heightened if the women feel alone in this struggle; without positive people around them to support them and offer encouragement and help. The skills they learned and progress they made in prison can seem a million miles away and no longer relevant. Since January 2016, Kahaila-Reflex have been able to offer Through-the-Gate support to the young women they work with; walking alongside them as they make the difficult transition from the prison back into the community.

Here is a 1 min video on the work:

Is this a partnership opportunity for your church?

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Geoff Knott, 19/07/2017

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