- Honour Roll
Helen Barnacle has enormous insight and empathy into the lives and difficulties facing women and young people with drug addiction issues and serving prison terms. She has made a huge contribution to supporting and empowering women to make their own choices and counselling women pre- and post-release from prison, based on her own experiences of the prison system and the associated personal pain.
Born in 1953, Helen Barnacle had an unhappy adolescence, dropped out of school and became a heroin addict. In 1980 she was given the longest drug-related prison sentence ever handed down to a woman in Victoria. Facing 15 years in prison, Helen realised she was pregnant with her daughter Allie. Thanks to extensive lobbying from Dame Phyllis Frost and others sympathetic to her situation, Helen was able to have her daughter with her in prison until Allie was four years old. She became the first woman to be allowed to keep her baby in prison beyond the age of one-year.
Helen Barnacle served eight years and kicked her heroin addiction. She completed tertiary studies and since her release has practised as a psychologist and drug counsellor. In 2000, Helen wrote a book, Don't Let Her See Me Cry, about the pain of relinquishing her daughter to her brother whilst she completed her prison sentence.
Helen is now an active prison reform campaigner and works with girls in juvenile justice centres. In 1996 she started a music/drama program for young women offenders at Juvenile Justice at Parkville and has now extended this program to include other young women offenders. Helen speaks extensively across the community sector in Victoria and nationally. She has been a keynote speaker at a conference for County Court Judges in Victoria and in 2002 she spoke at the University of Nebraska in the USA on drug addiction. In 2003, she contributed her story to the publication What Women Want. Helen practices full-time as a psychologist and is currently writing a book on drug addiction issues for families. She is on the board of the First Step Program - a drug treatment service in St Kilda.
"The recidivism rate horrifies me," says Helen. "Seven out of 10 offenders end up back in prison. The cost is ongoing to society. We need to try to break the cycle. I keep hoping that I can help educate the community about the issues. Usually the reason young women offend is because they have had neglectful or abusive backgrounds. We owe it to them to help them."