• Women prisoners are at the highest risk of harm after release, so its important that businesses offer them a 'second chance'.
Many women have difficulty moving toward self-sufficiency after prison. However, businesses like Together We Bake in the US are helping former-detainees get work experience, self-confidence and educational certification.
By
Sophie Verass

28 Apr 2016 - 10:50 AM  UPDATED 28 Apr 2016 - 9:46 AM

The harsh stigma of conviction makes it difficult for former prisoners to integrate back into the community.

The privilege of going to work and earning money is a real barrier for those with a criminal charge, and with approximately 40,000 people going through the correctional system per year, many Australians have difficulty obtaining employment for this reason.

An industrial bakery in Virgina, US is currently leading the way in prison reform, community participation and employment services.

Together We Bake produces a variety of healthy edibles for cafes, eateries and even Whole Foods franchises. These biscuits, granola bars and kale chips are made at the hands of women who have served time in prison or are on probation following criminal charges.

The employment program aims to rehabilitate criminal offenders. Founders of the bakery, Stephanie Wright and Tricia Sabatini combined their experience in cooking and background in social work to allow their apprentices to work towards a ‘Serve Safe’ certificate. This certification gives former-detainees the opportunity to find future employment in culinary fields and the hospitality industry. So far, 88 per cent of the women to go through Together We Bake’s program have passed this exam.

“We realised that there weren’t a lot of services for women [in need],” says Stephanie Wright, co-founder, “and these women face a lot of obsticles.”

But it’s not ‘all work, no play’ for the women in culinary training at Together We Bake. The course is aimed to help change behaviours, overcome feelings of negativity and lack of self-worth and the program has had a significant impact on teamwork and camradarie.

 

“It’s like a team, like a family of sisters,” says Bonnie Rice, a trainee “the women here at Together We Bake have showed me that there’s love and respect – and that you are someone.”

After release, women prisoners are subject to high levels of mental illness, poverty, drug use, violence and isolation, making them 20 times more likely to die in the first year of release than male offenders.

In Australia, women prisoners have lower levels of education and less work experience than male detainees, putting them at the greatest risk of harm when leaving jail.  

The South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources has a similar program to Together We Bake, in which they offer low-security detainees structured and supervised general park maintenance work.  

"The program benefits both the community and the detainees," says a spokesperson from the South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.

"It enables important maintenance and other work to be carried out in parks which improves the amenity and environmental values of these community assets and simultaneously supports the rehabilitation of the detainees involved, building their work skills and employability.

"We're pleased to say that one of the participants has been hired as a casual staff member as a result of the program."  

The privilege of going to work and earning money is a real barrier for those with a criminal charge, and with approximately 40,000 people going through the correctional system per year, many Australians have difficulty obtaining employment for this reason.

These community incentive programs help combat the harsh realities that former-detainees face. By obtaining work experience and building camaraderie, training courses aimed to give prisoners 'a second chance' play a significant role in the survival of vulnerable people such as, women, women of colour and people with criminal history in a world where the odds are stacked against them.  

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