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Health and legal sectors band together to help females in contact with the justice system

Pictured: Ms Sue Ball, Grants Manager- Victorian Legal Services Board; Ms Fiona McLeay, Commissioner and CEO, Victorian Legal Services Board; Mr Peter Vandermeer- Youth Resource Officer, Victoria Police; Ms Lisa Abbott- Project Co-ordinator, Frankston Mornington Peninsula Primary Care Partnership; Ms Shelley Cross- General Manager, Stepping-Up Consortium; Ms Misty Summers- Operations Manager, Frankston Magistrates’ Court; Meagan Mathieson- Manager, YSAS Frankston; Magistrate Tim Gattuso; Ms Jackie Galloway- CEO, Peninsula Community Legal Centre; Ms Eileen Foley- Senior Lawyer, Victoria Legal Aid.

Health and legal professionals are working together to improve outcomes for women in Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula who come into contact with the justice system.

In the last ten years, the female prisoner population in Australia has increased by 75%.

Peninsula Health, the Frankston Mornington Peninsula Primary Care Partnership and the Stepping- Up Consortium are leading a new multi-disciplinary project partnering with the justice sector to address the multiple and complex needs faced by women who present to the justice system.

“The Living Free Project mobilises these networks to undertake a targeted, integrated response to vulnerable young females aged 10-30 who have had contact with Victoria Police as a victim or offender,” explains Lisa Abbott, who is coordinating the project as part of her role at the Frankston Mornington Peninsula Primary Care Partnership and Peninsula Health.

“Through the program, females will receive intensive case management to help them address the risk factors that place them at risk of further contact with the justice system.”

“We are also developing priority referral pathways for these women with local drug, alcohol and mental health services.”

The Living Free Project is working with professionals who come into contact with vulnerable young females – such as maternal, child and family services – to build their capacity to best assist these women.

“This will help empower people on the front line to better understand the needs of females at risk of involvement with the justice system, to assess what is driving this and help them through it,” says Lisa.

This innovative health/justice initiative, funded by the Victorian Legal Services Board, brings together the Peninsula Community Legal Centre, Victoria Police, Mentis Assist, YSAS Frankston, Victoria Legal Aid Frankston and the Frankston Magistrates’ Court with the Stepping-Up Consortium, Peninsula Health and the Frankston Mornington Peninsula Primary Care Partnership.

“It’s important to think outside of the square in response to the growing numbers of females in the justice system, who often present with histories of trauma and are more often victims prior to them engaging in offending behaviour,” says Lisa.

“These women often have complex needs and as such it is important that health and legal services work together to best assist these women to break the cycle of re-offending.”  

A snapshot of female offending in Australia

  • Although the female imprisonment rate continues to be much lower than the male imprisonment rate, the female rate experienced more growth between 2006 and 2016 (45%) than the male rate
  • Only 14% of female prisoners completed high school
  • Over 85% of female inmates in some Australian jurisdictions are parents of dependent children; most of these head single parent families  
  • 89% have a history of sexual abuse, and as many as 98% have experienced violence