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Following our world cafe events across Australia in 2019, our network report Repurposing Prisons, Resourcing Communities has identified elements that will assist in repurposing prison and resourcing and readying communities for the return of people from prison to their communities in Australia.

Capture report

Repurposing prison involves reconceptualising prison, major culture change, altering prison staff 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 involves directing resources to local communities, as well as creating 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.

How to repurpose prison

#1 Increase links between prisons and community: Prison needs to function differently to better prepare people for release. There needs to be more emphasis on the need to create/build the connection between ‘in’ and ‘out’, consistent with the idea of repurposing of ‘prison’.

#2 Reform prison culture: Model prison culture to reflect general community culture,  encouraging life skills ; providing specialist training for prison officers/guards in case management/social work; differentiating between low risk vs high risk needs and associated treatment and services and replacing the punitive approach and attitudes of prison staff with respect and inclusion principles.

#3 Employ a trauma-based approach to therapeutic care: Treat pre-existing and prison-caused trauma as an important element of preparing people for successful release. This includes:

  • providing alcohol/other drug treatment and support and mental health treatment and support for people in prison;
  • including people with lived experience of prison as peer mentors;
  • 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; and
  • training prison staff in trauma awareness and in recognising pre-existing trauma and prison-trauma.

How to resource communities

#1 De-stigmatisation and inclusion:

  • reduce sensationalist media (advocate against fear mongering and generating ‘good news’ stories);
  • educate 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
  • provide incentives to employers hiring people who have been in prison.

#2 Throughcare training and services: Recognise 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. This should include:

  • 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; and
  • service coordination and collaboration.

# 3 Whole of support system changes: Recognise the need for system change in which  individuals alone, governments alone, communities alone cannot be expected to resolve what is a socially and financially costly problem, through the following actions:

  • address disadvantage within specific communities;
  • fund local councils and give them responsibility for reintegration;
  • formalise ‘exit care’ as a standard part of a release package;
  • introduce less onerous parole reporting conditions;
  • create ‘identity pathways’ to facilitate necessary identity change from being a person in prison to becoming a community member;
  • break down support system ‘silos’ and establish local community hubs;
  • increase terms and amounts of funding of community services; and
  • introduce and support a reconciliation agenda that enlists culture leaders and elders into the process.

You can read more about repurposing prisons and resourcing communities in our report here.

Brisbane World Cafe event, part of the series of events around Australia in 2019 where we got together to discuss ideas that would contribute to our policy platform.