• Podsoc #51
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Young women in prison:

In conversation with Sophie Goldingay

[Transcript of this podcast is found in the Reference tab below]

Mixing adolescents and adults in prison? We usually think not. Sophie Goldingay provides a different view from her research about young female prisoners. Instead having ‘Aunties’ around can help young people culturally, spiritually and behaviourally.

Sophie Goldingay is a senior lecturer in the School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University, and is currently Bachelor of Social Work Honours Coordinator and a Teaching and Learning Coordinator within the School of Health and Social Development. She uses mixed methods and cross-cultural research approaches with institutionalised populations such as prisoners and people with psychiatric disabilities, people with learning disabilities, and equity and access in Higher Education. She led a team which created a Multidimensional Framework for Embedded Academic Skill Development which won the Vice Chancellor’s award for Excellent Contributions to Equity and Access in 2012. The project has led to significant developments across the Faculty of Health, including a Pathways project with the local TAFE in Geelong, and a project embedding academic skills into the Bachelor of Social Work.

Recommended citation – APA6th

Fronek, P. (Host). (2013, May 18). Young women in prison: In conversation with Sophie Goldingay [Episode 51]. Podsocs. Podcast retrieved Month Day, Year, from http://www.podsocs.com/podcast/young-women-in-prison/.

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  1. Comments
  2. References

Doyle, C. & Goldingay, S. (2012). The rise of the “silver surfer”: Online social networking and social inclusion for older adults. Journal of Social Inclusion, 3(2), 41-54.

Goldingay, S., Lamaro, G. Hitch, D., Hosken, N., Macfarlane, S., Farrugia, D., Nihill, C. & Ryan, J. (2012). Perceptions of academic skills from first year social work students. First Year Higher Education, 3(2). Available at https://www.fyhe.com.au/journal/index.php/intjfyhe/index.

Hitch, D., Goldingay, S., Hosken, N. & Lamaro, G. (2012). Academic skills and beyond: A resource based approach to support student success in higher education. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 6(2), 29-43.

Goldingay, S. (2012). Getting it right in the mix: Teaching social work practice skills inclusively to diverse student groups. Journal of Social Inclusion, 3(1), 101-16.

Goldingay, S. (2012). Without fists: Age mixing and its influence on safety and criminal contamination in women's prisons. Youth Studies Australia, 31(2), 17-25.

Goldingay, S. (2008). Young women prisoners in New Zealand: Substance abuse and violent offending. Te Awatea Review, 6 (2), 17-19.

Goldingay, S. (2007). The bullying problem: Exploring ways young women prisoners talk about prison bullying. Te Awatea Review, 5(2), 9-13.

Goldingay, S. (2007). Jail mums: The status of adult female prisoners amongst young female prisoners in Christchurch Women's Prison. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand: Te Puna Whakaaro, 31: 56-73. http://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/journals-and-magazines/social-policy-journal/spj31/31-Pages56-73.pdf.

Book chapters:

Taket, A., Crisp B.R., Graham, M., Hanna, L. & Goldingay, S. (Forthcoming). Scoping social inclusion. In A. Taket, B. Crisp, S. Goldingay, M. Graham, L. Hanna & L. Wilson (eds.), Practising social inclusion, Routledge.

Goldingay, S. & Taylor, A. (In Press). Gender and justice: The role of media and populist sentiment. In M. Connolly & A. Taylor (eds.), Responses to violence in New Zealand, Te Awatea. Christchurch: Violence Research Centre.

Goldingay, S. (Forthcoming). Indigenous subjectivities: Subverting dominant representations to recapture prisoners’ intrinsic worth. In M. Pallotta-Chiarolli and B. Pease (eds.), The politics of recognition and social justice: Transforming subjectivities in the new millennium.

Transcription Podsocs 51: Young Women in Prison: In Conversation with Sophie Goldengay

Thank you to Caroline Grieve for this transcription

[musical intro to 00.10]

Hello, and welcome to Podsocs, the podcast for social workers on the run. Brought to you by a bunch of social workers from Griffith University in Australia.
I’m Tricia Fronek, one of that bunch, and we’re just basically really glad you found us. So, happy listening.
Welcome back to Podsocs everybody. We finally have a new recording. I’ve recovered from my first bout of marking and a bout of the flu. So, very excited, today we’ve got Sophie Goldengay from Deakin University who’s going to talk to us about Indigenous prisoners in New Zealand. Hello Sophie, welcome to Podsocs.

Sophie: Hello Trish, how are you?

Tricia: Now, you’ve done some research on Indigenous prisoners in New Zealand. Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into this work?

Sophie: Sure, actually, just to clarify, I did do research with prisoners in New Zealand with young women prisoners and I didn’t separate them out into their ethnicities. It’s just that, in New Zealand there’s a very high proportion of Indigenous people who are serving time in prisons. And I think that it’s quite a similar situation as to what happens here. I think it’s really important for us to be really aware that it’s due to those colonisation processes and marginalisation of Indigenous peoples, that leads them into situations where they, you know, become involved in breaking the law and being marginalised.

So, I just want to start, at the outset, that, sometimes there’s this idea that all Indigenous people in prison, or something like that, but I think that the broad situation of the process of colonisation and the impact on Indigenous people’s worldwide, not just New Zealand and Australia, but even in Canada and North America, that’s a very similar picture.

So, I just wanted to give that little preamble and some of my participants were of other ethnicities. We had a number of what we call in New Zealand, people who are not Maori, we call them Pakeha, which basically means European I guess. And European in a sort of a British sense.

So, I guess just a little bit about me, well, you can probably tell from my accent that I’m not from Australia. I’m not even from New Zealand either. I was born in England. I’m a ring in on both counts. I’ve been a social work practitioner for many years. I started off my career in mental health and then was promoted into working in criminal justice and I was the leader for social workers in the southern region of New Zealand for six years. I learnt a great deal from that practice experience and then I had my babies and then got, sort of, invited back into the university scene and got involved in tutoring and then got invited to do some higher research. So, I started off doing my Masters and then it sort of got bigger and bigger and was made into a doctoral study.

So, my research that I’m going to tell you about today is as a result of my doctoral study. You know, when I first started this study, I was actually asked by the Department of Corrections, because they knew me, whether they should be setting up a separate facility for young women prisoners, you know, so that they could serve time, on their own, without adults. Because in New Zealand at the moment they mix young people with adults, or young women with adult women prisoners. So, a wom…

Tricia: So, is it above the age of twelve or something like that?

Sophie: Fourteen. Yep, so between fourteen and nineteen, a young woman could serve some of her sentence in an adult prison. And of course, as you might be familiar with, the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child, which says that, young people under the age of eighteen, they need to serve their sentence separately from adults. Unless it can be shown that mixing is in their best interests. That’s what the convention actually says. It’s section 37b, the united nations conventions on rights of a child. And, but the trouble with that, Trish, is that there’s a lack of clarity about, “what constitutes best interests, like from who’s point of view?”

Tricia: And who decides that, yeah

Sophie: Yeah. And so, when I first started, I’d even been working in the prison system myself, as I said, for several years, and when they asked me that, I thought “oh, of course where going to find that they need to have a separate one”. That’s what I thought. And so, well of course that’s not research and I had to sort of have an open mind and, draw up an interview guide and I, because I’m committed to social justice in relation to colonised peoples, I approached it with a decolonising methodology, which means using Maori world views and processes in order to approach the research, collect the data, analyse the data. And what that meant to, was that rather than just talking with the young women themselves, who were serving the prison sentence, I needed to talk to key reference people around the country. So, Iwi representatives, that means like tribal representatives, were also part of the research. And, and I just learnt so much Trish, from talking with them. It really challenged my ideas about, what prisoners are like, what’s in best interest.

Tricia: And was it even about what is a child or what constitutes a child? Was that part of it?

Sophie: No actually. Nobody debated the age issue.

Tricia: So, is it more about their level of participation?

Sophie: Well it was more like, what is the nature of the relationship between the adults and the young people? And, what is the source of the danger? So, if you think about what that United Nation Convention’s all about, we just assume, I guess, that it’s about protecting young people from harm. And so, again, you’ve gotta, we’ve gotta, ask ourselves, what do we constitute as harm? One of the key things that I was taught by the Indigenous people I spoke with is, that actually placing young people away from adults, causes more harm to them from a cultural point of view. Because, for New Zealand Maori people, the concept of family and relationships between adults and young people is central to the culture. So, to actually separate them is actually contaminating them with like Western world views. So that was one of the key learnings that I got from that really, Trish. Just in terms of like, what do we call harm? From who’s point of view? Because, of course, if the dominant way of talking about mixing adults with children is that the adults will somehow contaminate the young people, that somehow the young people are pure and innocent, and the adults will, like, manipulate them and teach them bad things. That’s, I think that’s what a lot of the concern is about mixing adults with young people. That somehow, they’ll learn bad things from them.

Tricia: So, Sophie, what you’re saying really is, that the convention is a legal document probably constituted mostly by men, from a western …

Sophie: Absolutely.

Tricia: …perspective? And from what you’re telling me it seems like we could actually be doing harm to kids from certain cultural groups, by separating them and isolating them socially, culturally, and psychologically.

Sophie: Yes, and even spiritually. You know that cultural knowledge, it’s linked with a person’s sense of spiritual identity. Yeah, so like I mentioned, when I did this study, I tried to use Indigenous methods, if you like, even though, obviously I’m not indigenous to New Zealand, but I consulted with people in Christchurch where I lived, and they suggested I use a way of, like, thinking about wellbeing, and it’s called ‘Te Whare Tapa Whā’, which means, the four walls of the house. And, in that sort of conceptualisation, wellbeing is made up of spiritual wellbeing, family or ‘whānau’ wellbeing, as well as your physical wellbeing and your mental and emotional wellbeing. So, if you take that broad concept, then your looking at different things when you’re talking about, what’s in someone’s best interests. So, and I think it was by using Indigenous world views and methods, that I got the real knowledge. If you know what I mean. What it was really like for some of these folk. As opposed to, if I had missed that out, that would have been completely missed by the research. So, I guess that’s a little pointer for people who are doing, working cross culturally, that we have to be careful we don’t superimpose our own cultural lens onto looking at what other people are doing.

Tricia: It just makes you think how often that might happen in research.

Sophie: Yeah, that's right. And, I was so humbled by the process, because, despite being well intentioned, I sometimes did get things wrong. And luckily, I had cultural mentorship to guide me and to put me back on the straight and narrow. You know, because sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. And I just think it’s really important to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples, if you’re going to do research with Indigenous peoples.

So, I guess that another thing that I’d like to perhaps invade, by this Podsocs, is also to try and think about the nature of a young person who’s broken the law and to debunk the myth, that I found everywhere, by talking with staff in the prison, reading newspaper articles, and talking to workers generally, this idea that young people are manipulative, and just trying to get away with as much as they can. Because from, really talking with, the young people and the elders working with them, it became clear that they were really working the best they can to be the best that they could be. And that was shown by a number of women, like in the articles that I’ve written, I’ve cited some of the quotes from the interviews I’ve had with them. And two of them specifically sought out an older prisoner when she felt that she was going to act up. Like she’s been really angry and really aggressive, she didn’t want to act that way, so she would actually deliberately seek out this person, she had called Aunty, and sit next to her because she knew that that aunty could control her behaviour.

Tricia: So, by separating kids from that sort of support you will actually be taking away their mechanism for self-control…

Sophie: Yep

Tricia: …and coping in that environment.

Sophie: Exactly, yes. So, the young women spoke about how the adult women provided comfort, and mentorship, and also that discipline that they really wanted to have, loving discipline. And I think when you debunk some of the myths of this idea that young people are, like I said, trying to get away with murder. Because honestly, they weren’t. They were really trying to be the best they could be. And actually, the article that I wrote, I ended up calling it ‘Without fists’, but I originally wanted to call it ‘being my best self’. Because that was what the young people were talking to me about. They said that if they were in a unit with only young women themselves, they said that it would be like ‘Boulevard Hollywood’. That there would be so much drama cause the young people they tend to try and up, one up one another, what they call ‘staunch each other out’, and try and get status. Whereas, the older prisoners are sort of, this is how young people constructed them, are past all that, didn’t need to do that because they were already secure in themselves. And they gave the young people pointers of how to behave in a way that helps them get along with other people rather than being antagonistic towards them.

Tricia: So, is there a gender difference in this Sophie?

Sophie: Well, that’s a really good question. I’d have to say that I don’t know, because I haven’t spoken to the male prisoners. When I did my initial research though, there was a study that had looked at age mixing of both genders and even the young men have said that they felt safer when there were adult men around. But, it’s possible that it may be different because, maybe, I don’t know, yeah, I wouldn’t even like to say to be honest, Trish.

Tricia: Ah, No.

Sophie: No, I wouldn’t like to say. I know there is all sorts of stereotypes about men, which I don’t even want to voice because they might not be true. I can’t assume until I’ve spoken to them. And I don’t think, Trish, that I would be the one that would do that kind of research with men, because it would probably be better for a man to do it. But what I would be interested in, is maybe talking to young women in the Australian context, to see how their finding being in a youth only setting. And talking with Australian, First Australians to see what they might think of the idea of mixing. So, I have no idea of whether they would see that as a good thing or not. Because you can’t just superimpose what’s right in one setting into another. But I guess what is useful in the Australian setting is just to sort of debunk some of those myths around what young prisoners are like. And, what’s useful to them.

Tricia: Well, it’s certainly challenging some core beliefs, I suppose, that have been around for a long time. And there’s constant behavioural problems reported for adolescents who are under lock and key and it really highlights the need for training and, perhaps, a different world view on what the kids are actually doing or need.

Sophie: Exactly. And that, perhaps, what we have known as social workers up till now, perhaps we need to, perhaps, update that with some knowledge from Indigenous peoples, that, perhaps, our western ways of thinking about it aren’t necessarily right for all the people who we’re caring for in prison settings.

Tricia: And, particularly seeing, I mean, both New Zealand and Australia and elsewhere, have a problem with overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in prison. So, their voice is actually incredibly important for getting to address this problem.

Sophie: Exactly. Yeah so, I’d like to see that happen. And I don’t know whether I would be the right person given that, as I said, I am not from here, but I’d, certainly be interested in supporting anyone who was interested or working in partnership with anyone who was connected with local indigenous people and wanted to progress the issue, I guess.

Tricia: So, what were some of the key recommendations that came out of your work Sophie?

Sophie: Well, I guess really for policy makers to recognise the complexity of the relationships between young people and adults. And, also to be aware that the prison system itself is quite toxic. And that the fact that its already so authoritarian and hierarchical makes it a non-therapeutic environment for people. And that, in many ways, if the idea is to try and support young people to become more self-responsible and more aware of the impact of their behaviour on others, putting them in prison, in its current form, doesn’t do that. And, yeah so, I guess that’s one of the key things that, while I might be suggesting that age mixing might be useful for some young people, in some prisons, with some adults, that doesn’t take away from the fact that prison is already a toxic environment which is an anathema to indigenous culture both in New Zealand and from what I’ve read Australian Aboriginal culture as well. So, yeah, I guess people just need to, if they’re policy makers in corrections, perhaps take an open mind to Indigenous worldviews and seek more advice I think, in terms of what would be the best way to support young Indigenous people to be the people that they could be. From an Indigenous point of view.
Tricia: Perhaps we need a pilot program, and a new form of imprisonment if you like to test this out.

Sophie: Yes, and it’s hard to think of something that doesn’t go back into the old form of imprisonment isn’t it? So, I guess in many ways I don’t have any easy answers and if it was easy it would have been solved by now. But yeah, I just think that seeking a range of different knowledges would improve the situation

Tricia: Sophie it sounds like much of your findings were a surprise?

Sophie: They were Trish. They were a surprise to me. They were yep, they were. And that was from me working there too, see I’d worked there for six years. So, you’d think I’d know. But I didn’t. So, I guess that just goes to show.

Tricia: It proves a point really doesn’t it.

Sophie: Yeah. The process of how you actually go about finding out what you want to know is as important as anything else.

Tricia: Sophie is there a story that stands out or a particular narrative that stands out for you?

Sophie: There is actually. I’ll just see if I can find it. And it speaks actually to perhaps more the responsibility that we have as people who, in wider society. Oh, here we are. Is this it? And it’s really a narrative about social exclusion, because of course, once a person has served a prison sentence, it’s not just the actual sentence while they’re in there that punishes them, but what happens for them when they come out into the outside. Because, there is a lot of social stigma around having served a prison sentence. And I’m reading a study here in Australia by Hardcastle and colleagues, found that majority of landlords don’t want to rent their properties to an ex-prisoner, the majority of employers don’t want to employ a person who’s been an ex-prisoner and even if you talk to any person, any random person. Would they be friends with a person who’s been an ex-prisoner? And you might not necessarily get an affirmative there either. You know what I mean?

Tricia: Mmhmm, so it’s a punishment that stays with for life.

Sophie: That’s right and its incumbent on us as everyday people to really challenge ourselves around the othering process that happens to someone who’s broken the law. So, if I could just read out this little quote that, I guess, really challenged me, I guess, yeah, just that it’s something too for people to think about. So, this young woman says “and like, you know, a lot of people ask other people who keep coming to jail all the time, why do you keep coming to jail, you know, why can’t you stay out of jail? You know a lot of women come to jail because they feel nice. Jail, I know, that’s upsetting to say, but they should have that thing, that family on the outside as well as the inside. They should have that support regardless of what they’ve done, where they’ve been. I mean we all make mistakes hey, but we can only learn from our mistakes”. So, I guess it’s probably inviting people to have a little bit more compassion around people who have done things wrong.

Tricia: And even before they get to that point, about inclusiveness.

Sophie: Yeah that’s right. Yeah, so there was quite a lot of young people I spoke to who really felt that if they’d had more support and help from their family or from society that they would have been prevented from going down that path. Obviously, drug addiction is a major issue, but the way that drug addiction is framed by society is, compounds the problem because it’s seen somehow as a moral failing. Yeah, so I guess, I would like listeners to try and imagine themselves, if their daughter or cousin or such has got into a bad set, that maybe ended up with peers that got them involved in drugs and so on, and they got into a situation where they can’t get out, yeah, thinking more broadly around, how to help that person find their way back rather than just labelling them. I’m not assuming that your listeners would, but I know that there is a lot of talk out there and a number of agencies that I have worked in, and please, including prison services, where prisoners are seen as responsible for the circumstance that they’re in. And, I think, in many ways, that suits the corrections setting, to see prisoners as responsible because that takes the responsibility off everyone else. So, what I, I don’t know if people have heard of Tony Ward’s Good Lives model?

Tricia: No, tell us about it.

Sophie: Oh well, I think it’s fantastic. It’s the idea that if you enable prisoners to actually live good lives, their offending will actually decrease. And when you’re thinking good lives you’re thinking quality of life, quality of social connections, quality of employment, quality of housing. So, and I think that actually Victorian corrections has actually adopted that to a certain degree, which I think is so progressive here. So that’s in Victoria but I don’t know how it gets expressed. Yeah so, I guess, just in terms of learning from what I found from the young women themselves, not only is it about us and what our responsibility is, but I think also, we just need to perhaps problematise some of the fixed ways that we assume young people who break the law are. We can’t just assume that because they’re behaving badly now that they want to be like that forever and that they will try and manipulate to be bad, you know. I think this word manipulative is bandied around a lot to people who have been institutionalised, whether they’re in mental health settings or criminal justice and yeah, I guess just encouraging people to perhaps consider, why do we conceptualise people that way and who’s purpose does that serve?

Tricia: So, it’s really time to turn lens back on ourselves and really do some hard reflection on self and think about some of the judgements and dominant ideas, I suppose, that we bring to interactions with people

Sophie: Exactly yeah, I will have to confess I am one of those people who loves to post structuralist theory and discourse analysis. So, you got me in one their Trish.

Tricia: So final words Sophie.

Sophie: Final words oh I’ve said the message I’d like to say about the study and the young women in prison and I want to just congratulate you, Trish, on this fantastic resource which is Podsocs.

Tricia: Thank you Sophie

Sophie: And the opportunity to tell you about my research.

Tricia: And it’s been a pleasure the have you. Thanks Sophie.

Sophie: Ok

[Musical outro 23.57 to END]

Interview ENDS: 23.25