Transitioning into the community

9.124  Incarceration leads to a disruption in a person’s life, including loss of employment, and potentially a loss of housing, relationships and social supports. Release from prison without support to transition into the community can lead to a cycle of reoffending. This was highlighted by stakeholders to this Inquiry.

9.125  Legal Aid NSW drew a picture of release without support:

Our solicitors report that clients have been released without accommodation, arrangements for transport, at night in a country town when there is no train until morning, without medications or prescriptions, and without any treatment for their substance addiction. It is not uncommon for inmates to be released from the Sydney Central Law Courts or the Downing Centre Court complex in their prison greens and with no accommodation arrangements, having received no treatment in custody for their substance abuse and/or mental health issues and at potential risk of reoffending within a short time. The sense of hopelessness that stems from having nowhere to go when released, no plan or purpose, can undermine any attempts to improve an offender’s mental health while in prison.[205]

9.126  Legal Aid WA observed there to be a gap in the case management and transition into the community of prisoners with mental health and cognitive impairments.[206]

9.127  NSW Council of Social Service noted that finding ‘safe, stable and affordable housing’ was the greatest challenge faced by prisoners on release and community organisations working in the area of reintegration and transition.[207] ALSWA strongly supported the provision of resources for culturally competent throughcare services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners.[208]

9.128  Women’s Legal Service NSW submitted that return to community without support can be particularly harmful when women have made their first disclosure of family violence, sexual assault or child abuse in custody. It highlighted that support such as the mentoring program previously run by Women in Prison Advocacy Network (now Women’s Justice Network) have had positive impacts of supporting women post-release—the key being a decrease in reoffending.[209]

9.129  The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) noted the importance of culturally safe transition support services that are alert to issues about returning to community and any additional cultural, family and community factors. [210]

9.130  Homelessness following prison has been demonstrated to play a role in reoffending.[211] PIAC noted the need for more community-managed, supported transitional accommodation for ex-prisoners, more crisis accommodation, more affordable accommodation, and more social housing.[212]

The provision of throughcare

9.131  Throughcare aims to support the successful reintegration of offenders returning to the community at the end of their head sentence—ie, of prisoners released without parole. The Prison to Work Report described the concept of ‘throughcare’ in the following terms:

Prisoner through care projects provide comprehensive case management for a prisoner in the lead up to their release from prison and throughout their transition to life outside. Projects aim to make sure prisoners receive the services they need for successful rehabilitation into the community … Good through care ‘starts in custody well before walking out of the prison gate’, and provides hands on, intensive support, especially at the moment of release.[213]

9.132  This definition emphasises the importance of intervention, service coordination, and support at all critical points—not just release. Throughcare programs generally involve intensive one-to-one rehabilitation support; individual structured assessments; and individual case plans, created before release and followed through in the community. Throughcare models are more likely to be successful for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people if they are culturally competent, strength based, and utilise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled organisations and/or ex-prisoner organisations.[214] In relation to women, Dorinda Cox highlighted the need to reconceive the design of throughcare models for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison who have experienced family violence, stating:

The current through care models offered to Aboriginal women are founded in mainstream psychology and are individualist in their approach. They are built on the premise that post release Aboriginal women are able to function based on the work done through cognitive skills courses. But sadly, the reality is that many return to families and communities that are not able to support women recently released from prison, nor are the mainstream agencies able to case manage the social and cultural obligations that Aboriginal women have in family and community contexts. At systemic level we set Aboriginal women up to fail, we expect them to live separately from their support mechanisms and their cultural obligations – not engaging the families and communities in their journey back into society, thus creating a revolving door for Aboriginal women in the justice system.

Mapping the journey into, through and post release from the justice system is critical in understanding the challenges, barriers and experiences to build a new system that enables diversionary away from the current high levels of Aboriginal women in prison and to be responsive to the transmission of intergenerational trauma of Aboriginal people and communities.[215]

9.133  Agencies responsible for throughcare include corrective services; other law and justice agencies (such as parole authorities); government departments; and service providers who focus on specific areas such as accommodation, employment, addiction, mental health and vocational skills. The diversity and number of organisations involved means that close interagency collaboration is a key factor in the success or failure of any throughcare initiative. Close collaboration can provide for continuity of service provision as the offender moves from incarceration to supported transition to life in the community.[216]

9.134  The ALRC recognises that throughcare is a growing area and that various forms currently exist. There are challenges in the provision of throughcare for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including the difficulty of finding suitable housing;[217] and the limited availability of services in remote communities.[218] The following section provides a brief summary of throughcare programs highlighted by stakeholders.

9.135  YWCA Darwin provides a voluntary transitional program for female offenders; which provides 6 months pre and 12 months post-release support. The program provides women with case management support, learning opportunities and practical assistance to re-engage with the community,[219] including reconnection with children, family and community, accommodation and education and employment pathways and help with transport. It focuses on personal development, and parenting, life and social skills. Women are eligible whether they are on remand, sentenced or under a community corrections order. An independent evaluation of this program is currently underway.[220]

9.136  NATSILS noted the Western Australian, Fairbridge Bindjareb program provides workplace training to operate machinery. Those placed in the program are relocated to Karnet Prison Farm and travel to Fairbridge Village daily to participate. This includes training, qualifications, lifestyle and personal development training, the inclusion of mentors and Elders, and the provision of temporary accommodation where required.[221]

9.137  The Community Restorative Centre (CRC) drew attention to their post-release programs in NSW, and recommended that best practice reintegration support should start prior to release and be community-based, long-term, and be staffed by skilled and dedicated workers able to incorporate system advocacy on behalf of their clients.[222]

9.138  ACT Corrective Services provides an Extended Through Care Program (ETCP) to all sentenced detainees as well as female detainees on remand.[223] Detainees are identified for the ETCP four months prior to release. A case manager works with each detainee to develop a release plan. Detainees are referred to partner service providers that provide support in particular areas of need. A lead service provider is identified for each detainee and is provided with brokerage funding to support the client during the extended throughcare process. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees have a choice of providers depending on their individual needs and preferences, and may choose between Aboriginal and Torres Strait specific services or mainstream services in some areas. The ETCP case manager also assists detainees with basic needs upon release by providing a release pack and assistance with clothing, basic household items and food.[224]

9.139  The ALRC supports the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led development and delivery of throughcare to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners exiting the prison system as a means of lowering the likelihood of repeat offending within the community.