Coinciding with Anti-Poverty Week, the ‘Beyond Prison Walls – support to thrive on the outside’ forum explored how people exiting the justice system are over-represented in poverty and homelessness and looked at ways of a more collaborative and effective approach to supporting people re-entering society.
Geoff, who spent 1000 days in prison, spoke of the hopelessness associated with lack of education and poor literacy which made even filling out a job application impossible for some.
He said education spending had not increased for 15 years, despite the prison population tripling, meaning only 25 per cent of inmates serving less than six months can access a class.
Citing a high suicide rate in prisons, Geoff said he wanted to do something “to stop the 20 year old I knew yesterday not being here today”.
“My personal belief is that education gives people the hope of a job,” he stressed.
Geoff also criticised the post-release accommodation scheme which saw ex-prisoners living side by side, making it more likely for them to return to a life of crime.
“I found it really difficult not to end up involved in crime at least by association,” he said.
“I went to prison knowing how to use a bolt cutter, after seven months I knew how to disable a bank alarm system…40 ways to make crystal meth. There really is no good rehabilitation coming from prisons.
Geoff said he would like to see funding used more effectively to provide education to inmates.
Hosted by Vinnies president Brad Hocking (pictured), the panel included Ortal Yifrach, operations manager Vinnies Women’s Crisis Centre/ Vinnies Open Door, OARS CEO Leigh Garrett and Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services Joe Szakacs.
Mr Garrett said undersupply of accommodation was a huge problem: “I will never understand how we have let housing become such a problem in a community like ours,” he said.
“We need to invest as much as we can in social housing.”
Minister Szakacs said the panel discussion was a good start in joining up agencies working in this area and stressed that he was open to ideas.
He agreed that one of the constraints to increasing funding to rehabilitation and education programs for prisoners was negative public attitudes towards prisoners.
“We need to change the narrative in the community…it’s incumbent on all of us to normalise post-release, to demonstrate in a really positive way the attainment of skills…that are translatable to work” he said.
“With housing discrimination and our perception of what is a prisoner, it is on us all, including government, to move public perception.”Jump to next article