Hibiscus Initiatives – Supporting Foreign National Women

Project objective

The Bell Foundation supports Hibiscus Initiatives’ developmental work with foreign national women who are ex-offenders, or at risk of offending. Hibiscus Initiatives is provided with a core grant, enabling them to focus on their organisational development as well as delivery of services to improve their clients language, literary and communication skills.

Project partner

Hibiscus Initiatives is a charity delivering a range of services to support the rehabilitation of foreign national women across the criminal justice sector. Hibiscus Initiatives provides practical and emotional support, campaigns for the rights of detainees, undertakes research on human trafficking and offers workshops to prison staff on ethnic diversity. They can provide assistance in twenty different languages thanks to the support of its 50 volunteers.


Foreign national female offenders are disproportionately often serving custodial sentences because they have been used as front line risk takers for those who profit from organised crime. The characteristics of their offences are very different from those of UK nationals: for example, they are more rarely sentenced for non-violent crimes and more often sentenced for drug offenses, in particular importation. These types of offenses are often committed unaware or under pressure.

This group of prisoners also experience higher barriers to rehabilitation and resettlement during the course of their sentence. The language and cultural barrier, often together with a lack of trust in authority, makes them less able to access support services.

Despite the particular characteristics and vulnerabilities of female foreign national prisoners there is no national strategy for the management of foreign national women in the criminal justice system. Instead, the majority of support provided for this target group is given by small charities with specialist expertise such as Hibiscus Initiatives (Prison Reform Trust: No Way Out, 2012).

About the project

From the start of the partnership in May 2013 Hibiscus Initiatives, with the support of The Bell Foundation designed, developed and delivered an ESOL support training package to Romanian and Bulgarian Roma women. This included English language literacy skills and activities designed to provide the skills necessary to gain independence from support organisations and increase understanding and confidence of the society they are living in. The project was very well received by the participating women, none of whom re-offended during the course of the project. One of the participating women commented:

I think [the English classes at Hibiscus Initiatives] are good for me because here I learn easily and get a lot of explanations, and everything is really good and easy to understand. I don’t speak [English] outside and that’s why it’s good for me and helps me.

The Bell Foundation has extended its support to Hibiscus Initiatives in recognition of their specialist expertise and the need for this in the rapidly changing criminal justice sector. The Bell Foundation is providing Hibiscus Initatives with a grant to continue their service delivery work, but also to focus on their organisational capacity development.