Support to Roma women offenders
The Roma women population in Finnish prisons represent two minorities – the Roma and women – and prison rehabilitation activity has not succeeded in taking their special needs into account. Roma women with a criminal background face a multitude of problems, with their situation generally characterised by exclusion. For example, these Roma women often have a poor education and employment history and many have problems with substance abuse. Some do not have housing when released from prison. Exclusion often already begins in childhood, and for many criminal behaviour is cross-generational. Roma women with a criminal background do not in many cases benefit from services offered by society. They need support that extends from prison to post-release resettlement as well as guidance on how to gain access to services.
Romano Missio has provided Roma women with a criminal background with support under two projects since 2010. The project currently underway is Time for Change, a project funded by Finland’s Slot Machine Association (RAY) that is building a support path to post-release resettlement. Administered by Romano Missio and implemented in 2010–2014, Women's Turn was a rehabilitation development project for Roma women offenders. The need for the implementation of the project arose from the request of staff at Vanaja Prison to get a Roma worker for the prison to assist prison staff as well as to work with Roma inmates. Staff at Vanaja prison found it important for Roma women to have access to a Roma worker and activities aimed specifically at Roma women.
In addition to specialness arising from their cultural background, the inclusion of Roma offenders in rehabilitation work was also made more difficult by the fact that the sentences of many of the Roma women were short. It is more difficult to include short-term inmates than the long-term prison population in rehabilitation as they will not have time to take part in the rehabilitation activity of the prison during their sentence. Women’s Turn was a project that addressed these challenges and assumed a new perspective on rehabilitation: the empowerment of female Roma prisoners while taking Roma culture into account is at the core of the rehabilitation model developed in the project. At the same time the capacities of Roma women to utilise the services provided by society and prison are improved.