A recent article published in The Conversation looked at some of the failings in Australia’s social services systems for people recently released from prison when it came to housing, social support, and employment. Services can play a crucial role in post-release success for people leaving prison, with inadequate services often leading to re-incarceration.
Former Recruitment Director, Stuart Holmes runs The Green Collar, helping marginalised people find purpose, support, and employment. Through poor decisions and challenging life circumstances he commenced a downward spiral following a family break up, ending in a nine-month jail sentence some four years ago. We asked Stu to provide us with some insights into what the post-release support system looks like in Victoria so that as recruiters we can better understand where and how to help break down barriers to employment.
Finding support upon release from prison can be a minefield.
Upon release we are given an emergency fund, which is money accumulated during our prison stay of around $2 per day served, then enough ID to get Centrelink instigated immediately (along with emergency payment until fortnightly cycle begins). Besides this, to a degree, we fend for ourselves, if that’s what we choose to do. Finding a positive peer support, or community of positive influence is critical, particularly if we entered jail with a group of mates who aren’t the people we need as connections moving forward.
I found myself in jail, nearly 4 years ago. Fulham Victoria, a centre owned by the GEO Group. Upon release I was signed up with a Job Network Provider during my first interview at Centrelink and was given an appointment date and their contact details. As I had 28 days where I was exempt from having to participate in any program, other than my CCO, this was an essential time to follow through with the determination to move forward and away from a life of poor choices. This isn’t always easy, particularly with “release shock” and underlying mental health issues often still present.
I now work in the post-release industry through The Green Collar – a business I founded sometime after release, running a post-release program to assist “ex-offenders” to connect to the community through peer support, a peer coach, daily program sessions, job opportunities where suitable, and an overall advisory service to connect people to various essential services partners. I’m currently working with WISE Employment, a Job Network Provider who has the prison contract in Victoria for those leaving jail from the South-Eastern suburbs of Melbourne or the Western suburbs, but there are many other options and it largely depends upon what the offender has been organising pre-release.
Each State and Territory has its own system, and some jails are privately owned. This means alliances with post-release services will vary, but I can speak from experience with regards to GEO Group owned jails in Victoria.
Within most Victorian jails there are jobs-fairs, employers who run in-jail work/training programs whereby upon release there is a job waiting for them. A range of other Not-For-Profits and players can be accessed for almost any support needs, including specific case workers for 12 months, but it requires the prisoner to “ask around”. In jail we have monthly 1-1s with a prison officer, who is allocated our case. We discuss the work we will do in the prison and our category (we all have a status which depends upon the crime and our behaviour whilst in jail – usually depending upon the risk we pose to society based on crime and good behaviour). Within these discussions we are able to get a referral to one of the programs to assist pre-release. If the prison officer who you currently see for your progress meeting doesn’t know some of this, ask around. We have a lot of spare time in jail and can find the information we want if we ask for it.
In terms of drug and housing support, this will depend on how long someone has been incarcerated and what drug they are dependent upon and what their personal housing situation is. The first 28 days post-release are critical and it is critical to get to a pharmacy, or allocated Bulk Billing doctor (the jail gives a list of names) and get the required drug substitute, usually methadone, or suboxone. If there is nowhere for someone to stay, then Launch Housing will provide them with temporary accommodation, until a shared housing option becomes available.
Most housing options will not allow drug use (other than drug replacement therapy prescribed), so if the post release person chooses to go back to the drug they may have been taking pre-sentence, then options are limited. No-cost rehabs usually have a waiting list of around 6 months, so for those with longer sentences, who know when they will be released or bailed, applying for Odyssey House (to name one) may be an option. I became clean and sober in jail and it gave me the momentum to remain that way.
In jails across Australia there are now many groups such as Vacro, Salvation Army, The Bridge and partners affiliate with Job Network Providers who can assist with almost all of the issues discussed in this article. More and more Government money and resources are being allocated to this and its far from perfect, but getting better. Sometimes post release “referral overload”(too many options) and being paralysed by choices may become an obstacle as its somewhat de-centralised. But if prisoners are active during their time being served to source out some of the services above they should be able to find a case worker, or someone who will guide them in the right direction and offer the next steps.
For those on remand, who find themselves released earlier than expected in Victoria, I would recommend contacting The Salvation Army, Launch Housing or WISE Employment, all of whom can start to get essential needs provisions commenced. For other States of Australia start by asking your doctor, or Centrelink contact and work from there. If you have family support, then you are one of the lucky ones.
Jail is tough and getting out can be just as tough. Making the decision to change and being prepared to make it happen is an attitude that took me a long way and finds me where I am today.
Join us at ATC2023 at Luna park Sydney on 22nd & 23rd November to hear Stuart’s presentation, Overcoming The Mistake Of A Lifetime – why TA teams can champion forgiveness and fairness.
Looking for assistance for yourself or a loved one? Contact Stuart via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leave a Reply