Sister Inside confirms Townsville programme forced to shut down.
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JESSICA van VONDEREN: Last year, the prisoners support service Sisters Inside set up an outreach programme at the Townsville jail, with the help of a 120-thousand dollar grant from the then Bligh Government. Already this year, that service has helped 188 female prisoners break the cycle of crime. But now, the Newman Government has withdrawn the funding. The Communities Minister says Sisters Inside can try to reapply for money under the proper processes. But the group's founder says the cut will be catastrophic for the mainly indigenous prisoners who benefited from the service, and for the wider community. Kirrin McKechnie reports.
RENEE, FORMER PRISONER: I just went straight from the pot to the heroin. I didn't touch anything else. And then that's why I went downhill. I didn't want to rely on anyone, didn't want to rob anyone, so that's why I became a prostitute.
KIRRIN McKECHNIE: It's been a tough, rough road for this 33-year-old mother of two. But she's starting afresh: moving into a new home, and looking forward to what lies ahead for the first time in a long time.
RENEE: Once I got the job and saw what a happy life everyone was leading, I went on a boat for the first time. I remember. And I just had so much fun. And going to the beach and just doing normal things that I'd never done before. And it was wonderful.
KIRRIN McKECHNIE: Renee doesn't want to give her last name, because she's afraid her dark past could catch up with her. Yet despite her fears, she wants to speak out to help the support service that she says saved her life.
RENEE: I cannot think of a better way to give back than by doing this. So, they helped me I'll help them.
KIRRIN McKECHNIE: Renee was on her second of three stretches in jail for drugs and prostitution related crimes when she was contacted by Sisters Inside, a support service for women in prison. It was their constant contact and support that made her determined to get off heroin and get off the game.
RENEE: A nice lady called Jackie, she came up to see me every week, spoke to me every week. And then she picked me up from the jail and we went and got a bond loan and I got a house and I got a job and I've been clean ever since.
KIRRIN McKECHNIE: Renee's story is by no means unique. Every year Sisters Inside helps hundreds of women like her break the cycle of crime and poverty. But now, its Townsville outreach service is under threat, with the Newman Government pulling its $120,000 funding.
DEBBIE KILROY, SISTERS INSIDE: I'll have to travel to Townsville and tell those women that it's over. We can't provide the services anymore and I find that distressing and I'm sorry. Cause I have to say I don't know how I'm going to walk away from the women. My life passion is about walking with and assisting women to move forward and do well and not go back to prison not commit crimes, not use drugs anymore raise their children, be healthy functioning families so they're ok. But I'm going to have to go up there and say sorry we can't do anything anymore.
KIRRIN McKECHNIE: Debbie Kilroy is the founder of Sisters Inside.
DEBBIE KILROY: Campbell Newman said he was here for all Queenslanders. And now I can see the silent but those women in Townsville and North Queensland and those women's children. He is not here for them.
KIRRIN McKECHNIE: The new LNP Government marked its arrival with a garden party at Parliament House this week. For Debbie Kilroy, seeing the pomp and ceremony that accompanied the first sitting was hard to stomach.
DEBBIE KILROY: We have a massive party happening at Parliament House that would cost hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Our funding was $120,000 which will probably be the bill that fits their champagne today.
KIRRIN McKECHNIE: The Communities Minister, Tracy Davis, has issued a statement saying it was a one-off grant for 12 months made by the previous Labor Government and there was never a commitment for the funding to continue. Debbie Kilroy is adamant if the Townsville programme is forced to close, it will actually cost taxpayers money.
DEBBIE KILROY: It costs about $70,000 a year to keep anyone in prison. So even if we kept two women out of prison, we've already saved them $20,000. And I had this conversation with them, with the Director-General that their economics aren't weighing up. Because recidivist rates will go up which is going to mean more prisons so we're going to have to pay billions for more prisons, for those women to go through courts again, for those children to be kept in care. So all that cost is going to explode under this Government.
ANDREW BOE, BARRISTER: The people involved in there provide a huge bang for the buck here. $120,000 over a year in supporting tens or twenties of indigenous people in North Queensland is money extremely well spent.
KIRRIN McKECHNIE: Criminal lawyer Andrew Boe is no stranger to the work of Sisters Inside. Time and time again he says, its dedicated workers have helped break the cycle of recidivism.
ANDREW BOE: The quicker these people are re-integrated into the community, they're assisted in dealing with the social factors that brought them into custody in the first place, the more likely that they are not likely to reoffend.
KIRRIN McKECHNIE: Former prostitute and drug addict Renee insists she's living proof of that. If it wasn't for the early intervention of Sisters Inside, she believes she'd still be in jail. But now, she has a future.
RENEE: Oh great. Great. I can't wait to see my kids grow up. I can't wait to settle down and maybe get married one day. So, who knows and I'm not going back that way though. And I'll never lose contact with Sisters Inside.