Catholic Prison Ministry, Centacare, Cathy Pereira (Solicitor), Lifeline Community Care, Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, Faculty of Business, Queensland University of Technology, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Corporation (QEA) for Legal Services, Sisters Inside, ACRO, Smarter Jails = Safer Society, BoysTown, Prisoners’ Legal Service, Diane Fingleton-McGrath
With special thanks to research assistants Anastasia Angelopoulos and Sarah Mizrahi
November 2004 Foreword
Prisons – and what goes on in them – are one of the major forgotten tragedies in our society. Too often our society acts as if prisons and their populations are not part of our society. Not only is this an inaccurate perception, it may lead to policies and practices which are in no-one’s interests – prisoners, their families, their victims, or the rest of us.
A fundamental and disturbing fact is that in Queensland, incarceration rates and numbers have increased alarmingly in recent years, while in the same period, the numbers of prisoners on open (as opposed to high or medium) security classification, together with releases to community supervision (such as home detention, release to work or parole) are markedly declining. Moreover, outside the Northern Territory, Queensland has the highest rate of recidivism (60%) which may suggest that released prisoners are less well prepared for life in the wider community than they are in other jurisdictions.
This Research Report focuses on one aspect of prison policy and practice – how therelease of prisoners is managed and what impacts this management may have. This is a critical focus because it is premised on the reality that 99.9% of prisoners will one day return to life on the outside, to become members of the community alongside the rest of us, as justice requires that they should. A corrections system that fails to provide proper preparation for release and adequate supervision of prisoners released into the community invariably fails as a correction system. Not only does faulty release practice and policy threaten the human rights of prisoners as well as victims of crime, it contributes to recidivism and undermines community safety.
This Report describes what an appalling and damaging experience prison can be in Queensland, and how, paradoxically, the violence and dehumanising practices associated with Queensland prisons threaten one of the Government’s primary objectives in its corrections system, namely, community safety.
That said, this Report is a constructive document. It explores at length, best practice for the release of prisoners and makes significant and detailed recommendations for improvements to the Queensland corrections system.
Among its 50 recommendations, the Report calls for:
a comprehensive inquiry into corrective services by an independent person or body;
a serious application of the principle of “throughcare” in sentence management aimed at genuine rehabilitation;
the development of better targeted and resourced programs to enable progress through the corrections system;
enhanced and better resourced partnerships with community based agencies working with prisoners and their families;
greater transparency and public accountability of the prison system at all levels.
The Report is written to enhance public understanding and support on these matters. In particular, it is a major and helpful resource for public officials – elected and non-elected – who are concerned about the gap between rhetoric and on-the-ground reality in these matters and who may support reform of the Queensland correction system. We are under no illusions that this goal will only be achieved if there is a political will at Cabinet level to take the Report seriously. If this does not happen, we believe that, in the near future, serious problems with implications for public safety and this State’s human rights record are inevitable.
The project which led to this Report was initiated by the UnitingCare Queensland Centre for Social Justice. It was prompted by anecdotal feedback to the Centre from prison chaplains and a range of prison support groups. These groups – whose services have been utilised by thousands of Queensland prisoners and their families – have provided to the researcher detailed intelligence as to the practice in Queensland of the correction system and its impact on the release of prisoners.
Though direct access to prisoners or corrections staff was denied by the Director-General of the Department of Corrective Services, a wide range of persons made submissions and participated in focus groups. Given the high degree of correlation between them, we are confident that the stories conveyed in the course of the research, paint a picture which conforms to any reasonable person’s view of the social reality confronting prisoners around their release.
The financial resources which have enabled this research to proceed were provided by the UnitingCare Centre for Social Justice, Catholic Prison Ministry, Boystown, Smarter Jails = Safer Society, Lifeline Community Care, together with matching funding from the Queensland University of Technology. We wish to note with sincere appreciation the thorough, scholarly and committed work of the QUT Researcher whose Report this is, Tamara Walsh, and her senior colleague from the QUT Faculty of Law, Professor Brian Fitzgerald. We also want to thank those who have served on the Project Reference Group:
Under s3 of the Corrective Services Act 2000 a number of purposes of corrective services are listed, including community safety, crime prevention, humane containment, supervision, rehabilitation and recognition of special needs. However, it is clear from the Department’s procedures, Ministerial Guidelines, media releases and annual reports that the goal of community safety is considered paramount.
The Department relies on increased expenditure on physical security infrastructure, and lower rates of escape and assaults, as evidence of its commitment to community safety. However, physical containment alone will not achieve this goal. Since the majority of prisoners will be released back into the community at some time, corrective services must be committed to ensuring that the causes of prisoners’ offending behaviour are addressed and remedied. Only then will they re-enter the community with the capacity to live independently and in a law-abiding manner.
In 1988, a large-scale review of corrective services was conducted, culminating in the ‘Kennedy Report’. This report described the corrective services system as completely ineffective at rehabilitating prisoners, and noted that as long as this was the case, community safety would not be assured. The report recommended a complete overhaul of the system, with an emphasis on ‘correction’. It recommended that offenders be diverted away from the prison system where appropriate via alternative sentencing options, that prisoners have access to rehabilitative programs, and that all prisoners be gradually released back into the community.
Many reforms flowed from this report, yet in recent years, it seems that any gains that were made in the early- to mid-1990s have been significantly eroded. Kennedy’s description of the prison system in 1988 accords closely with the comments of today’s ex-prisoners and prisoner service providers. The system now, as in 1988, does not seem to be doing much ‘correcting’.
The prison population in Queensland is rapidly escalating. Indeed, it rose by 11% between 2002 and 2003. The Indigenous imprisonment rate is high, with 22.7% of the prison population in Queensland identifying as Indigenous, and women now comprise almost 7% of all prisoners. Recidivism rates are high, at around 60%, and the vast majority of prisoners are serving sentences of 12 months or less. These statistics suggest that whatever measures the Department is taking to promote community safety are not proving successful. This report argues that the only way community safety can be achieved is to ensure that prisoners who enter the prison system are ‘corrected’ by the time they exit it.
2. Best practice in prison release
The majority of prisoners come from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds. Many are poor or homeless, under-educated or illiterate, and chronically under- or unemployed. Many are Indigenous, experience poor physical and mental health, and are often addicted to alcohol or other drugs (see Ross 2003; UK Social Exclusion Unit 2002; Boryzycki and Baldry 2002). Prisoners have high treatment needs upon their admission to prison, and prison generally has the effect of exacerbating their marginalisation (Ogilvie 2001; Larivee 2001; NSW Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population 2000). It is therefore of prime importance that prisoners receive treatment, care and support upon their release, and throughout the course of their imprisonment in preparation for release, if they are to be successfully reintegrated into the community.
Over-riding best practice principles
A large amount of literature in relation to the transition management of prisoners has emerged over the past decade, and there is widespread international agreement on best practice principles. Five key best practice principles may be distilled from the literature. They are:
1. The importance of throughcare
Throughcare represents a consistent and progressive case management approach to prisoner rehabilitation which begins when a person is admitted to prison, continues throughout the period of their imprisonment, and ends some time after release, once the person is able to live independently in the community. Since the vast majority of prisoners will be released at some time, prisoners should be assisted to prepare for their release from the day they enter the prison system if community safety is to be promoted. Incarceration should be viewed as an opportunity to address prisoners’ needs to ensure they are ‘corrected’, restored and prepared for life in the community (US General Accounting Office 2001; Ward 2001).
The key component of a successful throughcare system is case management, where prisoners are allocated a specific worker who is dedicated to ensuring that they receive the treatment or services they require while in custody and upon their release (NSW Department of Corrective Services 2001). Ideally, the case manager should not have a supervisory or disciplinary role in the prisoners’ correction, but rather should be the central contact point for prisoners and their families, brokering services and providing support (Boryzycki and Baldry 2002). Best practice suggests that all prisoners should receive case management, regardless of the length of their sentence, both during their incarceration and after their release for as long as necessary in the circumstances (Lightfoot 2002).
Successful case management requires thorough periodic assessment of prisoners’ needs so that they may be successfully targeted (Lightfoot 2002; Victorian Homelessness Strategy 2001b; McCall 1998). Assessments should form the basis for a case plan, which outlines the services each prisoner should receive (Her Majesty’s Prison Service 2002; Ashford and Cox 2000; Walters 1998). Programs addressing prisoners’ needs and facilitating personal development should be available to all (Her Majesty’s Prison Service 2002; Lightfoot 2002; Travis, Solomon and Maul 2001), and such programs should be participatory and skills-based, rather than theoretical in nature (Vennard and Hedderman 1998). Further, a whole-of-government approach should be taken to service delivery to prisoners. Partnerships should be developed with government and non-government organisations in the community to ensure that a holistic approach to ‘correction’ is taken (Ogilvie 2001; Ward 2001; McCall 1998).
Best practice suggests that throughcare should form the backbone of all correctional systems if ‘correction’ is to take place.
2. The need for holistic aftercare services
The immediate period after release, particularly the first 30 days, is a time of immense stress for prisoners. Many prisoners suffer from ‘gate fever’ prior to their release which may manifest itself in severe anxiety or depression (Castellano and Soderstrom 1997), and a disproportionately high number of newly released prisoners die as a result of suicide or drug overdoses within their first few weeks on the outside (Biles, Harding and Walker 1999; Pereira 1999; Davies and Cook 1998). This is also a critical period in a prisoner’s rehabilitation, as prisoners are at a high risk of recidivism during this time (see Larivee 2001; Meisal 2001).
Prisoners are often forced to start their lives again from nothing when they are released (Anscombe 1999). Many prisoners lose all their belongings when they are imprisoned, in addition to their family, social support networks and their dignity (Ross and Ryan 2003). They must go through a substantial period of readjustment which may include reuniting with family members and children, finding housing and negotiating their way through the job market. For many, everyday activities such as operating ATMs, using a mobile phone and catching public transport will need to be learned or re-learned, and the isolation and loneliness they experience may be overwhelming (Lightfoot 2002).
Aftercare services are therefore central to the successful reintegration of prisoners into the community. Prisoners need a central point of contact where they can obtain assistance in relation to housing, welfare support, practical assistance, job search, educational courses, and social and treatment services. Best practice suggests that the most effective method of delivering such a service to newly released prisoners is through a drop-in centre. Such centres exist in many jurisdictions throughout the world (see Fretz 2002; Ashford and Cox 2000; Wiebush, MxNalty and Le 2000; Josi and Sechrest 1999). Alternatively, a toll-free telephone number may be set up to provide prisoners with the advice and assistance they require after their release (see Wignall 2002).
There is some evidence to suggest that aftercare services contribute to lower recidivism rates. One study found that 39% of young offenders who received aftercare services re-offended, compared with 73% of those who did not receive such services (NACRO 2003).
3. The need for pre-release transitional programs
Best practice suggests that as part of their throughcare and/or aftercare, prisoners should have the opportunity to participate in a pre-release transitional program where they can receive information and advice in relation to the key difficulties they will face on release.
Successful transitional programs assist prisoners to put together a ‘pre-release kit’ which includes identification documents, a tax file number, education transcripts, certificates, bank account application forms, referral letters to medical practitioners, and a list of contact details for and individualised referrals to social services (O’Loingsigh 2004; Ward 2001; Elborn and Nankivell 1992). Program modules are presented by community-based service providers and representatives from relevant government departments (Ross and Ryan 2003). For example, officials from the Department of Social Security and Department of Housing (or equivalents) should assist prisoners to complete application forms for benefits and public/community housing (Baldry, McDonnell, Maplestone and Peeters 2003; Elborn and Nankivell 1992). Further, successful programs run sessions on parenting and family relationships, often with the participation of prisoners’ family members. Practical life skills training is offered, and prisoners are encouraged to develop goals and plans for the future (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner 2002; McCollum 1999).
If prisoners’ immediate concerns are addressed through a transitional program, their capacity to function effectively upon their release may be enhanced and community safety will be promoted.
4. A preference for gradual release
The best way of assisting prisoners to reintegrate into the community is to release them gradually, providing them with less supervision and less support over time so they may become progressively acquainted with community life.
Best practice suggests that gradual release should be based on an accurate classification system which rates prisoners according to the extent to which they pose a safety threat to the community (Levinson 1988). However, any classification instrument used for this purpose must be shown to be reliable and valid, and appropriately adapted to the particular prisoner groups it is applied to (Austin and Hardyman 2004; Brown 2002; MacKenzie, Fossey and Rapaport 1988; Kane 1986). Further, decisions related to release should be made by bodies independent of the responsible Minister, and retain the integrity of the sentencing process. Indeed, re-entry courts are currently being trialled in the US whereby release decisions are made by a judge in consultation with service providers (US General Accounting Office 2001).
Forms of gradual release may include parole, home detention, furlough (or temporary release) and/or release to community residential facilities (‘halfway houses’). Graduated release schemes may incorporate more than one of these release options, to facilitate progressive release to freedom and independence. Prisoners may be monitored in a number of ways while they progress to liberty, however best practice suggests that they should be personally supervised by a community corrections officer, who also provides them with emotional and practical support. A positive working relationship between the prisoner and the officer is vital (US General Accounting Office 2001; Broadhurst 1991). Mere supervision without support will not lead to reduced recidivism rates; in fact, it may increase them (Travis, Solomon and Waul 2001; Meisel 2001; Larivee 2001).