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.

Reconceptualising Rehabilitation in Women’s Prisons

Prof. Elaine Genders1, Prof. Elaine Player2
1University College, London (UCL), London, United Kingdom, 2King’s College, London (KCL), London, United Kingdom

The UK government’s recent indication that it wishes to see a reduction in the size of the women’s prison estate affords a timely opportunity to rethink the concept of rehabilitation for women offenders sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Feminist criminologists campaigning for the diversion of women from custody have long argued that the pursuit of rehabilitation for women in prison is at best illusory.  Whilst we support this general stance we contend that there will remain a minority of women offenders serving long terms of imprisonment for serious offences, who are unlikely to be diverted and for whom opposition to correctional programming requires a more nuanced approach.

Our interest in reconceptualising rehabilitative regimes stems from empirical research we undertook in a prison with a dedicated unit run as a democratic therapeutic community (DTC), principally, for women serving lengthy sentences for serious violent offences.

In this paper we briefly outline the structural organisation and operating principles of this unique intervention, and detail the women’s experiences of the therapeutic regime. We argue that the organising principles informing the operation of the DTC can be distinguished from those of other treatment programmes, and that the DTC model can be defended from many of the criticisms raised by feminist scholars. The women’s DTC we studied is the only one of its kind in the UK, but we suggest it might provide a model for the development of more defensible rehabilitative regimes for this residual population.


Elaine Genders is Associate Professor of Law and Reader in Criminology at the Faculty of Laws, University College London (UCL) where she teaches criminal law, theoretical criminology, and prison ideology, policy and law. She has published in the fields of violent crime, the social meaning of legal constructs, and on various dimensions of imprisonment. Her current research focuses on gender and justice, issues of legitimacy concerning the mechanisms of criminal justice, and the state’s duty of care in respect of prisons.

Elaine Player is Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Vice Dean for Students, Culture and Community in  the Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College, London. She has published in the fields of sentencing and imprisonment focusing particularly on gendered justice. Her recent publications explore the personality disorder pathway for women in England and Wales and the impact on female defendants of the sentence discount for a guilty plea.

Prison work as dirty work in Australia: Form and consequences for practice and reform

Dr Anna Eriksson1, Ms Ariel Yin Yee Yap2
1Monash University , , Australia, 2Monash University , , Australia

This paper explores how prison staff in Australia view their work and how their work is viewed by others, by applying a theoretical framework of ‘dirty work’. ‘Dirty work’ is a social construction that refers to tasks that are ‘physically, socially or morally tainted’ (Hughes 1958, Ashforth and Kreiner 1999) and this paper will discuss how this applies to prison staff in Australia and the consequences of such taint.  The discussion is based on qualitative research in seven different Australian prisons, ranging from high to low security. Staff frequently reported feeling under-appreciated, under supported, over-worked and lacking sufficient training and support. We will illustrate how staff responds to working in a ‘dirty’ profession by reframing, refocusing, and recalibrating their daily work tasks. Importantly, the stigma of ‘dirtiness’ tends to foster strong occupational and workgroup cultures – an us against them scenario – which in turn makes cultural change of a profession difficult, and we will conclude by outlining possible impact of this for reform of prison practice.


Dr Anna Eriksson does research on comparative penology, restorative justice, and criminal justice reform. She is the author of Contrast in Punishment: Explaining Anglophone excess and Nordic exceptionalism, Oxford: Routledge, 2013 (with John Pratt), and she held an ARC DECRA between 2012 and 2014 that explored how ‘othering’ of prisoners and individuals, and prisons as institutions were achieved in Australia and Norway. Dr Eriksson has acted as a consultant for both public and private prison operators, and engages in cross-disciplinary research, including performance arts, with the aim of improving policy and practice. Anna is also the Director of the Imprisonment Observatory:

Ariel Yap is PhD candidate, head tutor and research assistant at Monash University. She also volunteers her time as an intern at the Imprisonment Observatory.’s research focuses on crime control and punishment, and she looks at how penal policy intersects with policing and historical practices. She is interested in researching the development of governance, punishment, policing, and how this has shaped contemporary responses to crime in South East Asia. Ariel’s PhD project aims to provide an understanding of patterns of power and control in respective societies within this region. She is also interested in research and writing opportunities within this field of work.



Experiences and perspectives of African Australians in Victorian prisons

G Onsando1
1Gerald Onsando Consulting, Cranbourne North, Australia

The number of African-born prisoners in the state of Victoria is gradually increasing. This presentation is from a research about experiences and perspectives of a cohort of African prisoners in Victoria. This is the first study focusing on experiences and perspectives of Africans in Australian prisons. In-depth interviews were conducted with 13 prisoners in four prison locations as well as with three volunteer mentors.

It emerged that African prisoners’ wellbeing was an issue of concern because of their traumatic past personal histories as well as the existing uneasiness about their safety while in prison. The prisoners also confronted sociocultural challenges including experiencing discrimination and racism. Young adult African prisoners were particularly concerned about being harassed by police after their release. Also, the prisoners were confident of receiving family support after they were released from prison but were uncertain of receiving support from their local communities.

From a corrections perspective, the often-challenging experiences African prisoners confronted and the lack of adequate community support pre and post-release, increases their likelihood of reoffending and returning to prison after being released. This means that, addressing the challenging prison experiences and receiving local community support while in prison and post-release will likely reduce African prisoners’ recidivism and improve their reintegration into society. Justice authorities should urgently address the challenges African prisoners face while in custody. The African prisoners also need post-release support particularly from their local communities as well as bespoke educational and employment opportunities to assist their reintegration and resettlement outcomes.

Dr Gerald Onsando, a member of the African community in Victoria, has significant experience of engaging with African communities in sociocultural, leadership, and research contexts. Dr Onsando has published widely and presented findings on different aspects of African communities’ resettlement in Australia and has recently successfully completed a Department of Justice and Regulation research consultancy that reported on ‘Experiences and perspectives of African prisoners in Victoria’.

Making sense of ‘green care’ in prisons

Gary Veale1, Abigail Wild2
1University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, 2University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

In recent years, ‘green criminology’ has expanded to include work on ‘green prisons’ and ‘green care.’  The ‘greening’ of the justice system has received growing attention around the world, an imperative driven by potential cost savings and the purported benefits of nature connectivity. This conference contribution speaks to the emerging literature of ‘green care’ in prison, drawing on concepts of biophilia, nature connectivity, and human performance to provide a fuller consideration of the human relationship with nature in the context of prisons. Our paper seeks to place individual programs (e.g., animal assistance, prison gardens, agricultural work), architectural and environmental features into a more cohesive conceptual framework of people’s interactions with nature. Referencing research into everyday nature experiences – in an increasingly urbanised, technologically mediated world –  this paper considers how correctional decision-makers might prioritise certain initiatives and how practitioners might make such initiatives more effective. We present a new transdisciplinary sense-making framework for the human relationship with nature – the Tembo device – to guide practitioners and academics involved in decision-making concerning institutional, staff and prisoner priorities based on practical, evidence-based insights

Gary Veale is an Honorary Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne (School of Ecosystem & Forestry Science) and former Director with KPMG. His PhD and research is focused on the role of nature in unlocking human potential, the realities of people’s everyday nature experiences, new frameworks for making sense of the human relationship with nature, and corporate nature responses. Gary is the founder of ‘Geri’ and ‘The Nature of’, and splits his time between these ventures.

Abigail Wild is a doctoral researcher at Cambridge University (UK), living in Melbourne, and completing a thesis about faith-based prison units in the United States. In addition to academic work, she is a member of StartUp Vic and serves on the board of Sun Strategies, a venture capital fund.


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