Interview with Julia Sheehan: The Trust's Work in Prisons

Our annual International Women's Day Auction is coming up and we are delighted to feature an extraordinary lineup of female-identifying artists! This auction will support The Trust’s vital work in women's prisons, as well as their 2022 plans to expand their women’s hepatitis C work beyond the prison walls into probation services and women’s centres.

Julia Sheehan, the National Female Prisons Coordinator for the Trust, discuss the work that the Trust does. 

What is your role at the Trust?

I am the Women’s Prison Peer Coordinator. I oversee the prison peer programme across the 12 female establishments that make up the women’s prison estate. I work alongside a wonderful woman called Colette Price who is the Women’s Prison Peer Lead. I focus on the prisons down south and Colette leads on the northern prisons as she is based in Manchester. Together we deliver Hepatitis C awareness training sessions to both staff and prisoners, P2P workshops, support liver clinics for those diagnosed with hepatitis C and run 121 clinics where we support women through their treatment. 

Tell us why the women's estate needs special attention

Women’s prisons have a significantly higher prevelence of hepatitis C in comparison to the male prisons; this is because most women in prison are there for a drug related offense. With so many cuts in services and the lack of housing, reoffending rates amongst women are high and many will be caught up in the revolving door of prison. As an ex prisoner and I know this journey well. Women face different disadvantages to men and many women in prison have extensive histories of violence and abuse that lead to poor mental health, drug addiction and complex needs. The women I work with need a safe space where they don’t feel judged or alone and that’s what my team give them. 

Can you tell us about the ‘Follow Me’ Campaign?

The ‘Follow Me’ is a tool we have taken from the community team and developed it to use in prisons. It is an extra safety net to reduce patients lost to release and ensures continuity of care. We really needed something where the pathway could be followed into the community and vice versa. At the earliest opportunity a ‘Follow Me’ consent form is completed, usually in clinic, with all the relevant details needed to find her on release. It is also used to support women who are mid-treatment on release so she can be supported through to being given her ‘cured’ status.

The ‘Follow Me’ process is mirrored across the entire prison estate.  

How have you seen things change in women's prisons since you've been in your role?

As far as I am aware we were the first all-female team with lived experience of hepatitis C to do work in the female prisons. It was new ground and we faced many challenges in terms of access because of our lived experience of prison. Most of our work was focused on delivering training and sharing our own personal stories with the women in a group setting and really cementing the importance of getting tested. Fast forward 2 years and the difference blows my mind when I think about it. Treatment is available to everyone that needs it. Every female prison will have a HITT (high intensity test and treat event) where in partnership with the local NHS Trust, prison healthcare and HMPPS we deliver a full prison testing event and anyone that needs treating will be. And we are there every step of the way, supporting the women.

What has your journey with the Hepatitis C Trust been like?

I started with the Trust as a volunteer with a dream to help people with hep C after I completed the new treatment myself in 2017. It was so simple, a short course of tablets and I was cured of a virus I had for at least 10 years. I became a paid member of staff in February 2018 after our now CEO Rachel Halford had a vision for the prison peer programme to be rolled out into the female prison estate. I thought with my experience of having hepatitis C in prison I could make a difference. I would have benefited so much from the support we give to the women today.

What is your favourite AoaP moment?

My favourite will always be the International Women’s day Auctions. Women hold such a special place in my heart and what a wonderful way to acknowledge women’s achievements, with beautiful art created by women.

What are your favourite cards in this year's IWD auction?

1. Ceal Warnants - Girls Are Loud. I love this, it feels like permission to be vocal and passionate. The complete opposite of the stiff  “girls should be seen and not heard” 

2. Gabrielle Rul - Stories Come To Life. We are the makers of our own destiny. We write our own book and bring it to life with the decisions we make and actions we take. 

3. Gabrielle Rul - Dear Friend, There’s So Much I Want To Tell You. We all need friends in our corner. 

To find out more about the Trust's work visit their website

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