Post-release support needs of African Australians leaving prison in Victoria

Dr Gerald ONSANDO1, Mr Mamadou DIAMANKA2

1Research Fellow; School of Social and Political Sciences; The University of Melbourne
2Founder and Managing Director; Australian African Foundation for Retention and Opportunity (AAFRO)


The number of African-born prisoners in the state of Victoria is gradually increasing. The challenges and support needs of African Australians going into and coming out of Victorian prisons is largely undocumented. We will present on a new research project, Reintegration and resettlement: Post-release family and community support for African Australian released prisoners in Victoria. This is a community-based research project focused on the particular cultural needs of African Australians leaving custody, through which we will seek to better understand and suggest ways of addressing the challenges.

The focus of this project will be on the role of family and community, and how the African concept of ubuntu – the principle of interdependence and connectedness, captured in the saying ‘I am because we are’ – may provide both a bridge and a barrier to life after prison for African Australians. We will also consider what we might learn, more broadly, from thinking about how we can work with cultural identity when supporting all prisoners struggling to connect with community following their release from custody.

Whatever happened to ‘Prison as a Last Resort’? Time now to consider the path towards abolition!

Peter Norden1
1Deakin University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

This paper highlights some of the issues contained in the presentation made at the Inaugural Tony Vinson Memorial Lecture at UNSW in September of this year.

This presentation also responds to the call by the new editors of the ANZSOC journal, Andrew Goldsmith and Mark Halsey, in the March 2017 edition, where they stated their priorities for the journal in the coming years:
‘We are interested to promote work centred on big and bold criminological ideas’. They indicated that they wanted to focus on ‘intractable criminological problems (such as) First Nations over-incarceration…’ They continued: ‘It is noticeable to us how often programs at criminology conferences barely engage with some of the issues on the front pages of newspapers or other media’.

Responding to that call, this paper intends to critique the role of the State in failing to limit the use of imprisonment to situations of serious crime and extending the prison estate to over-represent not only indigenous persons but also those non-indigenous persons who come from the most disadvantaged postcodes in Australia. It is time for our expanding prison systems across Australia to stop incarcerating those with a disability or addiction and to focus on its proper purpose: serious criminal activity.

The paper includes a 10 step pathway towards reducing the national prison population by 5% per year over the next 20 years!


Peter Norden is a Fellow of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology and an Honorary Fellow in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Deakin University. He has exercised many roles within the Victorian criminal justice system over 40 years. In 2007, he was made an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) ‘for services to community development through social research and programs aimed at assisting marginalised young people and offenders, and to the mental health sector in Australia’.

Daring to be different? Creating a new, large, rehabilitative prison

Kate Gooch1
1University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom,

In February 2017 HMP Berwyn became the first prison to open with the aim of becoming a ‘rehabilitation prison’. Situated in North Wales, it is the largest prison in the UK, with capacity to accommodate 2,106 men. In ‘daring to be different’, every element of opening and operation has been evaluated in light of the strategic aim of becoming a rehabilitative prison, underpinned by the ‘principle of normality’ (‘Mandela Rules’, United Nations, 2015) and an emphasis on ‘making big feel small’. The rehabilitative vision goes beyond a desire to offer appropriate programmes and interventions to consider: innovations in staff recruitment and training, modifications to the prison’s aesthetic appearance, strategic operational delivery, organisational linguistics, operational decision making, social relationships, family and community engagement and partnership work. Yet, while the importance of rehabilitation is inarguable, the idea of a ‘rehabilitative prison’ is highly contested. This paper draws on a unique empirical study of Berwyn to consider the challenges, opportunities and complexities in designing, building, opening and operating a new, large and rehabilitative prison.


Dr Kate Gooch is a Lecturer in the University of Leicester Law School specialising in prisons and imprisonment. Building on her doctoral research on young people in penal custody, she has continued to undertake ethnographic research in prisons, focusing on issues including violence and organised crime in prisons, physical restraint, self-harm, self-inflicted deaths in custody and aspects of the legal process concerning children, such as the interrogation and detention of child suspects. Most recently, she has been researching the planning processes and opening of a new large and rehabilitative prison in England & Wales, producing a series of thematic reports for policy and practice as well as several academic publications

Briefing prison design in a risk-averse environment

Mr Kavan Applegate1
1University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom,

The pursuit of rehabilitation in a corrections environment poses numerous challenges and, for the architect, many competing requirements must be balanced as the design of a prison goes from a blank sheet of paper to a fully-fledged and signed-off prison design. But within operational requirements, security assessments, environmental analyses, engineering coordination, and fit-for-purpose legalese comes a risk-averse mentality that for correctional designers requires the management of reward against risk. Often, the aspirational briefing for rehabilitation may be tainted or subverted through compressed timeframes, fears around contractual defaults and risk-avoidance strategies, especially in the Public Private Partnership delivery model. So, how might we change the briefing process and assign the risk to the most appropriate party? Or should we simply decide that rehabilitative design is so important that a particular risk is worth taking?


Kavan Applegate, Director of Guymer Bailey Architects, has been working on secure facility architecture for at least 20 years. Joining Guymer Bailey Architects’ Brisbane studio in 1995, he moved south and started the Melbourne studio in 2000, and has led the briefing, design, documentation, and delivery of dozens of secure buildings and entire facilities throughout Australia. Jointly leading a team of 50 architects and landscape architects, Kavan is passionate about the rehabilitative effects of architecture and the importance of creating normalised secure environments.

The moral ambiguities at the heart of progressive prison design

Prof. Yvonne Jewkes1,2
1University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom,  2University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

Discourses of transformation, normalisation, trauma sensitivity and rehabilitation have recently come to the fore in the briefs given to prison architects. Drawing on recent collaborations with several prison services, this paper will explore the moral ambiguities that lie at the heart of these seemingly unquestionable and desirable goals. It will discuss whether prisons can be designed with an explicit mission to rehabilitate offenders and whether they can succeed in this goal even when rehabilitation is not an underpinning philosophy in their planning and design.  It will also consider the seemingly intractable contradiction in trying to achieve rehabilitation in ‘corrections’ and will contemplate where the limits of the rehabilitation mission lie in prison planning and design.


Yvonne Jewkes is Professor of Criminology at the University of Bath and Honorary Visiting Professor in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. She has conducted several funded studies of prison architecture, design and technology in the UK and Europe. She has also undertaken research and consultancy in prisons in Australia and New Zealand.  Other, related interests include ‘green prisons’, computer technologies in prisons, and the ethics of prison architecture. Yvonne has published numerous books and articles on various aspects of imprisonment and is a series editor of Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology.

Supporting First Nations families with a parent in prison: the experience of Belonging to Family

Ms. Krystal Lockwood1 ,Susan Dennison, Anna Stewart, Lisa Broidy, Troy Allard and Nick Tilley

1Griffith University, Mt Gravatt, Australia,

With the rise of the overuse of incarceration, collateral consequences of incarceration are infiltrating Australia. For First Nations families this is endemic, where the number of families impacted are rising as the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous rates of imprisonment widens. The experiences of families that have a parent in prison are diverse; but we do know that families are more likely to be disadvantaged across many social and emotional well-being measures before, during, and after incarceration. One way we can learn how to provide effective support is by running theory driven evaluations of programs that are specifically designed to support families with a parent in prison. In this presentation, I will discuss the findings from a realist evaluation of Belonging to Family. Belonging to Family was established in 2011 to support Koori families as a parent returns home after being incarcerated at the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre, New South Wales. I focused my evaluation on how the program worked, drawing upon administrative documents, observational data, and interviews with participants and stakeholders. In this presentation, I will discuss; how the small-scale program addressed complex issues within complex systems; how the program supported diverse experiences between participants; and discuss the importance of incorporating First Nations values in the program as well as the evaluation. I will demonstrate how these observations should influence policies, programs, and practices impacting First Nations Peoples as well as families impacted by incarceration.


Krystal Lockwood is a Dunghutti and Gumbaynggirr women who grew up in Armidale, NSW. She completed a Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice (Hons), MSc in Evidence Based Social Intervention, and is currently finishing her PhD at Griffith University focusing on supporting First Nations families with a parent in prison.

“Prison journeys” – Exploring the distances between prisons and prisoners’ family members

Dr Kirsten Besemer1,Lacey Schaefer & Susan Dennison

1Griffith University, Mt Gravatt, Australia,

Regular family visitation is often associated with improved outcomes for offenders. However, due to Australia’s vast geography, prisoners and their families may be hundreds of kilometres apart. Qualitative research shows that long travel times and high travel costs can be a great burden on prisoners’ family members, who may thus be less likely to visit regularly.  Indigenous Australians, who are more likely to live in remote areas, are especially disadvantaged by the metropolitan locations most prisons are in. This study uses data from an Australian survey to explore what kinds of families, in which Australian States, are most severely affected by long travel distances. We consider how such travel distances could affect prisoners’ re-entry processes.


Kirsten Besemer is a Lecturer at Griffith University. Her research uses representative national Australian data sources to identify short- and long-term effects of imprisonment on prisoners’ family members.

Challenges and benefits of gradual release programs for the wellbeing of children of prisoners

Ms. Holly Smallbone1,3  Susan Dennison, Stefano Occhipinti and Catrien Bijleveld

1Griffith University, Mt Gravatt, Australia, 3Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, Faculty of Law, VU University , Amsterdam, Netherlands

A recent body of research on parental imprisonment has identified a number of benefits of parent-child contact for children’s wellbeing, parents’ recidivism rates and parent-child relationships. Additionally, this research has described some of the challenges associated with this contact. However, most of these studies have been conducted in closed prisons, where contact is restricted to limited scheduled visits and costly phone contact. More research is needed to examine the benefits and challenges of contact within open prisons (i.e., those with fewer security restrictions and more opportunities for family contact) for imprisoned parents and their families. In the Netherlands, open prisons provide opportunities for gradual release, where prisoners can return home every weekend in the final stages of their sentence. However, little is known about how children and parents experience this transition. In this paper, we draw on semi-structured interviews with 21 parents serving the last three months of their sentence in an open or half-open prison in the Netherlands to qualitatively examine the challenges and benefits of gradual release programs for parents and their children and the extent to which this process introduces new elements of risk or protection for children’s wellbeing. We discuss our findings in the context of implications for prison policy and program development to support the needs of children of prisoners.


Holly Smallbone is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University, Australia, in conjunction with the Netherlands Institute of the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR) and VU University. Holly’s research focuses on the impact of parental imprisonment and children’s wellbeing, with a specific focus on the parent-child reunification period when a parent is released from prison.

How do mothers ‘do time’? – Understanding variation in mothers’ experiences of imprisonment.

Ms. Rebecca Wallis1,2 Susan Dennison, Lisa Broidy
1Griffith University, Mt Gravatt, Australia,2TC Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

This presentation draws on in-depth interviews with 60 mothers imprisoned in Queensland. It explores how mothers’ experiences of imprisonment are shaped by the interplay between maternal self-concept and role performance, and how this interplay is conditioned by mothers’ personal and social characteristics and their maternal histories prior to imprisonment. In particular, this exploration reveals that imprisoned mothers are a heterogeneous group, who are ‘doing time’ in a number of different ways. Some mothers are concentrated on maintaining an already well- established maternal identity during imprisonment, whereas others are primarily trying to cope with trauma and loss arising from their maternal histories. Some are actively working to reclaim and transform their maternal identity. Other mothers exercise little maternal authority during imprisonment, but rely instead on family to facilitate and support their maternal relationships. This explains differences in maternal role performance during imprisonment, and reflects variation in maternal self-concept and agency. It also demonstrates the importance of social and institutional contexts in shaping motherhood, both in prison and over time. This study helps to deepen our understanding of the range of maternal experiences in prison; shines light on key factors and interactions that shape patterns of variation; and has implications for the range of supports required to be more responsive to the needs of mothers.


Rebecca Wallis is an Associate Lecturer at the TC Beirne School of Law, and a PhD candidate at Griffith University. Rebecca’s research explores how criminal law theories and principles play out in policy and practice, and how these shape the operation of the criminal justice system in intended and unintended ways. Her doctoral thesis explores maternal pathways through imprisonment.

Relieving overcrowding in women’s prisons in Queensland: What it means for female offenders

Dr Sandy Sacre1,Ms Mel Conway1,
1Queensland Corrective Services, Brisbane, Australia

From January 2012 until mid-August, 2018, Brisbane Women’s Correction Centre (BWCC) accommodated significantly more prisoners than its single cell capacity. While overcrowding in Queensland’s male and female secure correctional facilities has remained an issue since 2013, overcrowding at BWCC reached almost 100% over available capacity on some days in the first half of 2018. In addition, to help cope with the overflow, Townsville Women’s Correctional Centre also exceeded its built bed capacity since mid-2016. With 488 additional beds newly commissioned at Borallon Training and Correctional Centre, the Queensland Government made the decision to move all of the men out of Southern Queensland Correctional Centre (SQCC), and move women into this centre which was originally purpose built as a women’s centre. This means that occupancy of Queensland’s high security prisons for women will reduce to approximately 90% on a state-wide basis. Baseline and follow-up data, both quantitative and qualitative, was collected, before and after this change occurred, from a large sample of the women who moved to SQCC and the women who remained at BWCC. The data that will be presented relates to how the women felt about their circumstances before and after the move, how the move was conducted, and women’s hopes, concerns and expectations around the changes. This data will be presented in the context of what has been learned and how this will help inform how QCS manages incarcerated women into the future.


Dr Sacre joined Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) in July 2017 as Director, Research, Evaluation and Performance. Sandy is a Registered Psychologist and Registered Nurse. After working for 12 years in acute and primary healthcare, including intensive care and remote area nursing, Sandy entered the mental health field in 1990, working across private, public and NGO sectors. From 2001, she worked in a variety of clinical, research and tertiary educator roles, including five years managing the programs and counselling department of a large private psychiatric hospital. Part of Sandy’s current role has involved the re-establishment of QCS’s Research and Evaluation Unit in accordance with Recommendation 23 of the Queensland Parole System Review by Walter Sofronoff, QC in late 2016. The unit works both independently and in partnership with QCS colleagues and university scholars, to forge a strong culture of evidence-informed thinking and practice at QCS. Sandy completed an Honours degree in Psychology at the Queensland University of Technology in 2000 and was awarded the University Medal. Supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award Scholarship, she attained a PhD in 2007. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the School of Psychology and Counselling at QUT and an Adjunct Lecturer at the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland.


The society is devoted to promoting criminological study, research and practice in the region and bringing together persons engaged in all aspects of the field. The membership of the society reflects the diversity of persons involved in the field, including practitioners, academics, policy makers and students.

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