Prisoners' Legal Service Inc. (PLS) helps people in prison and their families with legal matters relating to their incarceration, such as parole or family visits. PLS obtained funding for a financial counselling service from FaHCSIA (now DSS) and Tukie Balanzategui filled the position at the commencement in 2010.
Tukie grew up in far north Queensland and moved to Brisbane after finishing a Bachelor of Arts. She had been working in wealth management for 10 years when she heard about the financial counselling position.
Tukie said, “Like many people in the community, I didn’t know anything about financial counselling before this. I became the sole financial counsellor at PLS and built the financial counselling service while studying the Diploma of Financial Counselling.
“My clients are people in prison or community based corrections and their family members. The service is delivered through outreach across the whole of Queensland. I help people with credit and debt problems, provide financial literacy education, and engage in law and policy reform and group advocacy.”
In her role at PLS, Tukie visits all 14 prisons in the state, providing services in person, by telephone or video link, or in writing. PLS has a free telephone advice line and an established referral network. Since starting seven years ago, Tukie has helped over 1200 individuals through casework and resolved over $2m in individual debt, owed to both government and commercial entities – through both internal and external dispute resolution. Tukie has also provided information to many thousands of people by delivering education workshops in the prisons, developing resources, and distributing newsletters and information broadsheets to the prisons.
PLS faces many barriers as it is difficult to obtain funding for people in prison, despite the fact that they are some of the most disadvantaged people in our communities. Some of the difficulties Tukie faces as a financial counsellor include making hardship arrangements with creditors, obtaining accurate information from prisoners and accessing prisoners in a timely manner.
ABS data for the March 2017 quarter shows that in Australia there are 40,577 persons in full-time custody and 67,296 persons in community based corrections on a daily basis. Queensland has the second highest prison population and the highest number of persons in community based corrections. Multiplying this by friends and family members affected by incarceration, it adds up to a significant portion of the population.
Tukie understands the revolving cycle of prison and poverty in Australia. “Generally, people who enter prison experience a combination of poverty, homelessness, poor literacy and numeracy, addiction and mental health issues”, she said. The financial counselling service aims to address financial issues and provide financial literacy education while a person is incarcerated, in an attempt to improve their chances of re-entering the community successfully.
The service also aims to minimise the impact of economic exclusion while providing a pathway to accessing services post-release, educating individuals about consumer behaviour and encouraging people to be proactive in resolving financial problems as they arise. “I find this approach is effective at reducing the rate of recidivism,” Tukie said.
There is no other community legal service in Australia that provides legal and financial counselling services to people in prison and Tukie is the only financial counsellor dedicated to assisting prisoners and their families.
“I feel my work is making a substantial difference to the lives of many people affected by incarceration. I am proud of the outcomes I have achieved and the positive pathways found by my clients in very difficult circumstances.”
Click here for more information about Prisoners’ Legal Service.