Leaving Prison: Why the expertise of people with lived experience of incarceration, and the expertise of community sector workers, should be front and centre of conversations about building pathways out of the criminal justice system.

Dr Mindy Sotiri, Sophie Russell2

1Community Restorative Centre, Sydney, Australia 2University of New South Wales

This paper explores perpetual punishment in the context of leaving prison in NSW, with a focus on policies impacting on housing, employment and social connection post-imprisonment. A confluence of discriminatory policies and practices, siloed government approaches to recidivism, and a continued reliance on a criminogenic framework within criminal justice agencies, combine to make the possibility of genuinely building pathways outside of the criminal justice system extraordinarily challenging (regardless of the personal motivation or readiness of people at the point of release).

Drawing on early findings from a NSW health funded research collaboration between CRC and the University of New South Wales, a road-map for successful reintegration will be proposed.  This road-map proposes people with lived experience should be at the forefront of conversations about ‘what works’, asserts a distinction between rehabilitation and reintegration, and advocates for programs which place the structural predictors of recidivism at the heart of service delivery design.

When exploring ‘what works’ to reduce recidivism, conversations and resources in criminal justice system settings are very focused on exploring the individual factors and risks of people leaving prison. Justice research tends to focus on the efficacy of programs inside and outside prisons that address issues such as impulsivity, anti-social behaviour, violence prevention, anger management, and problematic drug and alcohol use.  Considerable government resources are funnelled into the implementation of these programs. This paper argues that this indivdiualised frame for understanding reoffending is of only limited use outside of the criminal justice system, and proposes a community led response to entrenched criminal justice system involvement.


Dr Mindy Sotiri BSW (UNSW) PhD (UNSW) has worked in prisoner reintegration and post-release support for twenty years. She has been in her current role as the Director of Policy, Advocacy and Research at the Community Restorative Centre for the last seven years, and in this capacity has been responsible for researching, developing and implementing evidence based best-practice with complex needs populations across a range of different program areas.  Mindy serves on the Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Board, is currently the community sector representative on the multi-agency High Risk Offender Assessment Committee, and is regularly called on to provide expert advice on community based post-release to both government and the NGO sector. In 2016 she was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to continue her research into best practice in post release in the international context.


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