Second chance for former inmates

Second chance for former inmates
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“Upon release I felt alienated from everyone around me. I felt that everyone was looking at me and everyone was looking down at me. I didn’t feel part of normal society.”

This was the experience of Dan Baxter*. Who after two different stints in prison – one for ten years and the other for five – found it extremely difficult to adapt to the outside world.

. With Post-Incarceration Syndrome (PICS) setting in and a criminal record making him virtually unemployable, Mr Baxter’s difficulties extended to his mental health.

“You pick up a certain code in prison and you do bring it with you because if you spend long enough in there it is a major part of your life and it becomes a major part of your personality,” Mr Baxter told City Hub.

He said that even after two years of job interviews, he would just be ignored on account of his criminal history.

“Two years of knockbacks, it’s hard.”

“After the last time I got out I had just had enough of the life I had been living and I just really wanted to live. You know, find a partner and get a job.”

Mr Baxter’s story is just one of several case studies that Kate Wiechmann of Prisoners Aid Association is using to create a new post-incarceration rehab program.

Titled ‘Mates on the Move’ this new initiative is aimed at training ex-offenders to deal and interact with the outside world.

According to government data, a parolee is two and a half times more likely to return to prison in their first three months than at twelve months after their release.

Ms Wiechmann told City Hub that Prisoner’s Aid is well equipped and has the experience to help combat this statistic and help ex-inmates to move on from prison life.

“Given that Prisoner’s Aid is in the business of storing, delivering and moving people’s belongings it seemed like a natural fit to go into this industry,” Ms Wiechmann said.

“We had the contacts over the years. We have built up relationships with community housing providers and so we were able to get some clients very early on for the removalist business.”

The training will cover five different aspects for the participants: essential life skills, employability skills, mentoring, accredited training and work experience.

Ms Wiechmann said that key features of this will be day to day living, how to discuss a criminal record in a job interview, getting references and one on one time with mentors.

Research Fellow at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Andrew Griffiths stressed the importance post-incarceration rehab in NSW.

Mr Griffiths is currently the Chief Investigator of an inquiry into the ACT’s Extended Throughcare program and explained to City Hub why post release support is needed.

“45.8 per cent of prisoners who were released during 2011-12 [in NSW] returned to prison within two years,” he said.

“Detainees released to the community often experience homelessness, poor mental health and high rates of illicit drug use.”

“Recidivism and premature death are significant risks in the months following release from prison.”

“Post release support can help to address these issues and to therefore reduce rates of recidivism.”

This program is a first for NSW, as the state is lagging behind others in post-incarceration schemes that provide employment opportunities similar to Victoria’s Reintegration pathways and the ACT’s thoroughcare program.

Currently the state does have several transitional schemes for ex-inmates.

But Mr Griffiths said that many of these have to deal with integration with the community not employment.

These programs are funded by Corrective Services New South Wales (CSNSW) Funded Partnership Initiative.

A CNSW spokesperson told City Hub that they provide work, vocational and education experience to enhance employment opportunities and promote successful reintegration with the community after release.

‘Mates on the Move’ has received help from many over the last few months as Prisoner’s Aid has tried to get the program up and running.

Ms Wiechmann said that Leichhardt Mayor, Darcy Byrne and state Member for Balmain, Jaime Parker were helping her in finding premises.

She also said that the program had begun to receive its first major donations, these came from the Ian Potter and Westpac Foundations.

Mr Baxter said that programs like this would give ex-offenders like him hope in future.

“At a start point, we won’t be coming straight from prison. We will have a reference,” Mr Baxter said.

“Even if it is volunteer work, it would give us that reference.”

“It would give us hope.”

*Not his real name.

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