Every year at our annual conference, a group of people end up at the conference bar imagining how good it would be if there was a national network that links up everyone for the rest of the year. A small group of people have been working on this for the past 3 years, but to make it work, we need your support now.
Today, members of our After Prison Network endorsed an open letter, calling for all Australian governments to take urgent action reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in the criminal justice system, especially in prisons and youth detention centres.
The open letter calls on Australian governments, as a matter of urgency, to:
• Ensure people in prison are informed on the status of COVID-19 and their rights; • Ensure compliance with international laws and the standards for health treatment of prisoners; • Adopt, to the extent possible, best-practice sanitation (including alcohol-based sanitisers if necessary) and social distancing techniques to promote safety; • Support not-for-profit and government agencies to work with people in prison and their families to find them safe accommodation when they are released; • Minimise the impact of restrictions on people in prison (e.g., frequent opportunities to communicate with family online, in the absence of face-to-face visits; increased access to and availability of phones; judicious approach to the use of solitary confinement); • Minimise the use of resources on the detection and prosecution of non-violent offences that do not pose a significant risk to the community; • Support bail and non-custodial penalties for all defendants who do not present a very high risk that cannot be managed in the community (eg, through electronic monitoring), noting that stringent restrictions on daily movement are likely; • Legislate to require bail and sentencing courts to consider the risk that a current pandemic will present to the prisoner and their community upon release, with a view to promoting community-based options; • Facilitate remote supervision of bail and community corrections; • Provide additional support to victims, noting the likely increased risk of family violence for those in home quarantine conditions; • Resource community legal centres, legal aid, Aboriginal legal services and prosecution agencies to facilitate remote interaction; • Provide for the early release of people in prison, including: *those at high risk of harm from COVID-19, including those with pre-existing health conditions and older people; *children and young people; *those detained for summary offences (e.g., unlawful driving; public disorder; fine default); property crimes; non-violent drug offences; common assault; and breach of justice procedures; and *those who are likely to be released in the next six months.
We know that the present ‘corrections’ systems in Australia are not working; not with respect to prison preparing people for successful re-entry and integration within their communities, and not with respect to communities being sufficiently prepared to support people released from prison.
Earlier this year, we invited people with direct experience and knowledge of the criminal justice systems in Australia to tell us:
How could prison function differently to prepare people for successful release?’
What conditions are needed within communities to effectively support people post-release?’
our World cafe questions in Perth, Brisbane, geelong, melbourne, sydney and by survey
Our project, though small scale, has identified a large number of elements that may well assist in repurposing prison or resourcing and readying communities for the return of people from prison to their communities.
Repurposing prison will involve reconceptualising prison, major culture change, altering staffing profile, increasing development and treatment programs, and practice changes to create a primary focus on preparation for post-release crime-free, productive and meaningful lives for those people released.
Resourcing and readying communities will likely involve directing resources to local communities, particularly those with a history of contributing substantially to the prison population, as well as creation of local integrated systems of support, formalising responsibility for local reintegration ‘infrastructure’ possibly through local councils, all within a broader program of support for communities identified as highly disadvantaged.
#1 Linkages between prisons and community: This was the most prominent theme identified related to how prison could function differently to better prepare people for release. The emphasis on the need to create/build the connection between ‘in’ and ‘out’ is consistent with the idea of a repurposing of ‘prison’.
#2 Reforming prison culture: Specific issues raised within this theme included: modelling prison culture to reflect the general community and encourage life skills ; providing specialist training for prison officers/guards in case management/social work; differentiating between low risk vs high offender needs and associated treatment and services and replacing the punitive approach and attitudes of prison staff with respect and inclusion principles
#3 Employing a trauma-based approach to therapeutic care: Our participants emphasised the need to treat pre-existing and prison-caused trauma as an important element of preparing people for successful release. Specific issues included: providing alcohol/other drug treatment and support and mental health treatment and support while imprisoned; using former prisoners as peer mentors in support roles; supporting psychological readiness for release and integration into the community; providing a greater number of mental health professionals and case managers to support a therapeutic approach; as well as training staff in trauma awareness and recognising pre-existing trauma and prison-trauma.
#1 De-stigmatisation and inclusion: This was the most prominent theme relating to resourcing and readying the community for release and reintegration of people from prison. Specific issues identified included: reducing sensationalist media (advocate against fear mongering and generating ‘good news’ stories); educating government and community (about the contexts of offending, challenges associated with desistance and reintegration, and the benefits of reintegration); reforming criminal record disclosure laws and providing incentives to employers hiring people who had been in prison.
#2 Throughcare training and services This was the second most prominent theme, demonstrating recognition that a large majority of people leaving prison have complex and multiple support needs and do need continuity of care for some time post-release. Specific issues raised included: provision of basic life and social skills development; family therapy and support; employment support; availability of training and education; appropriate housing (short-term, transitional, affordable, longer term); individualised and experienced case management; alcohol and other drug treatment and support; mental health treatment and support; service coordination and collaboration; and acknowledgement of the complexities associated with Indigenous status.
# 3 Whole of support system changes: Recognition of the need for system change suggests that participants understand that individuals alone, governments alone, communities alone cannot be expected to resolve what is a socially and financially costly problem. Specific issues included: the need to address the broad conditions of disadvantage within specific communities; funding local councils and making them responsible for reintegration; formalising ‘exit care’ as a standard part of a release package; introducing less onerous reporting in parole conditions; creating ‘identity pathways’ to facilitate necessary identity change from offender to citizen; breaking down support system ‘silos’ and establish local hubs; increasing terms and amounts of funding of community services; and introducing and supporting a reconciliation agenda that enlists culture leaders and elders into the process.
Next year, the conference theme ‘Changing Seasons, Changing Lives’ will focus on regeneration, the process of renewal, restoration, and growth. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Western Australia recognise that the distinct seasons have distinct purposes.
How can we draw on these lessons in our work with people leaving prison?
Our network advisors meet regularly to provide our the network with specialist and strategic advice on issues relating to justice involved young people in Victoria, including advice on priorities, goals, direction and possible activities of the network. This includes supporting the identification and sharing of emerging trends and issues in youth justice. This group also […]
Our newly appointed network representative for Western Australia is Ian Neil.
Ian is the Manager of Pivot Support Services which has been providing transitional services to people in prison at Albany Regional Prison and Pardelup Prison Farm since 2004. Pivot is a representative of the WA alliance of reintegration providers which consists of the eight providers across the state.
Ian is looking forward to working with everyone to develop our national voice.
Are you interested in taking on a volunteer role for your state or territory as the After Prison network local representative? We’re looking for people to volunteer as representatives for NSW, SA, WA, Queensland and the NT.
Professor Lorana Bartels is representing the ACT while Grant Herring from JusTas has accepted the role of representing Tasmania.
Here’s what the role involves:
Represent your state or territory in quarterly national network teleconferences and update State/territory network with outcomes of the meetings.
Act or delegate a person to act as the state/territory contact person on the network website here.
Retain a list of current email contacts of local members.
Is this something that you might have interest/capacity in taking on or know of someone who might consider sharing or taking on the role with you?