Learning from former prisoners who have gone straight…..it makes sense!
25 Nov 2015
Claire Seppings, 2015 ‘50th Anniversary’ Churchill Fellow has just returned from a seven week fact finding visit to the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Sweden and the United States of America to learn how these countries have successfully utilized the rehabilitative role of ex-prisoners and offenders as peer mentors in reintegration models.
‘It was inspirational, she said.
Not only have all these countries embraced the benefits of prisoners and former prisoners as peer mentors; ‘former ‘criminals and drug addicts’ now sit at the policy table, working with researchers, civil servants and government ministers to help inform justice, social and health policy reform. ‘Successful ex-offenders who have been driven by their lived experiences to develop and lead their own agencies and services, employ former convicted persons and work with prison and probation systems to deliver person centred services’.
The opportunity for social worker Ms Seppings to further her passion for prison reform in this area was funded and supported by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. Established after Sir Winston’s death in 1965 as a living legacy that inspires extraordinary thinking, his Fellowships enables emerging specialists to bring knowledge back to Australia in order to benefit the wider community. Claire’s project has delivered this.
‘The rate of recidivism in Australia is causing an ongoing and ever increasing burden on the taxpayer, risk to the community and disengagement of people from society’, Claire says. ‘We now have the opportunity to reduce it’.
‘By recognising the value that people with lived prison experience can bring to policies and services, and to their own profession, NGOs in these countries have been able to bring positive reform to their criminal justice system. By following their example, we can do this in Australia.
‘By believing in rehabilitation, restoration, reformation, desistance and recovery, we have the opportunity to improve the lives of many people, their families and community. And more significantly, to demonstrate that our prison system believes in the outcomes it is funded to achieve.’
On her visits to the many prisons, government departments, universities and non-government agencies in the selected countries, Ms Seppings spoke with many prisoners about her project, focusing on their experiences as peer mentors. To perform this role, successfully rehabilitated former offenders return to a prison or probation office to chat with, and/or mentor, current prisoners and offenders.
‘I was very impressed by the jurisdictions that have embraced the use of peer mentoring in prisons,’ she said. ‘There are many offenders who would like to “go straight”, but don’t know how. Drawing on the experience of those who have “lived the life” and moved on really helps’.
Claire’s research project has enabled her to build a wide network of contacts across these countries and jurisdictions. Now returned to Australia, she plans to meet with all stakeholders to facilitate the implementation of her Project recommendations.
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