The public expects violent offenders to serve time, but if we are going to reduce crime, prisoners must also be better coming out than when they went in. Prison is not however creating the individual rehabilitative change funded to do so. The rate of recidivism in Australia is causing an ever increasing burden on the taxpayer; risk to the community, disengagement of people from society, and lost human potential.
Recidivism has become the bane of all correctional authorities and professionals. When prisoners return to prison for new offences and breaches, they leave behind new victims and return to the same programs that failed to reach them the first time. With nearly one in two prisoners returning to jail within two years of release, advocates continue to call for urgent action.
We now have the opportunity to do just that. My extensive experience of the prison system has given me deep insight into the system and the commitment to drive reformative change. I felt that in Australia the missing link to achieving this is using the expert experience of those closest to the problem and valuing their reformative success stories. My Churchill Fellowship project did just that.
In my seven weeks' Churchill Fellowship trip I visited 65 agencies across the UK, Ireland, Sweden and USA; including government / non-government, universities and prisons. In these countries ex-offenders lead their own agencies, employ former prisoners and help deliver person-centred services. Prisoners and ex-prisoners are valued as peer mentors and as advisers to prison management, public servants, government ministers and researchers.
I found that reformed offenders can help those struggling to go straight, inform policy and are proven effective agents for positive change.
My report recommendations cover the need to incorporate the voice, expertise and role of people with convictions throughout the criminal justice system; to recognise and include them in prison reform, policy development, service delivery, research and media, and as conference keynote speakers. They point out the need for more prisoner access to digitised higher education and the reform of stigmatising language and criminal records.
Implementing my recommendations would require a conscious policy shift in Australia, but my report provides the evidence for any jurisdiction in Australia to bring us into line with other countries.
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