February 16, 2016 |
Mentoring within our prison system by those who know it best has the potential to revitalise rehabilitative justice and reduce recidivism, according to Claire Seppings. Recently returned from a research trip around the world funded by a prestigious Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellowship, Claire has seen firsthand how those with lived experiences of imprisonment can help to change the lives of those inside.
Organisations run by formerly incarcerated individuals with a focus on mentoring and advocacy have seen real success in countries like the UK, Ireland, USA and Sweden. These programs build on the philosophy of groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, by recognising that people who have been through the system and come out the other side are well placed to offer advice and support to those who wish to do the same. Particularly important in the incarceration context is the breaking down of the ‘us versus them’ mentality between people who have been in prison and the community that can stall rehabilitation.
Quoting JustLeadership, an organisation dedicated to empowering the people most affected by incarceration, Claire pointed out that ‘those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, but furthest from resources and power’.
Many of the organisations that Claire visited during her research project recognise this barrier to rehabilitation and are consequently staffed almost entirely by people who have previously been in prison. From Mark Johnson, a formerly incarcerated substance user who founded User Voice in the UK, to Julio Medina of Exodus Transitional Communitywho experienced twelve years prison in the USA – the ability of people with lived experience of prison to create positive change is clear.
Now back in Australia, Claire is working to encourage Victorian prisons to utilise the knowledge gained from other countries to tackle rising levels of recidivism. Her report from the research trip is soon to be published and speaks to the benefits of this form of mentoring, which is yet to be adopted by Corrections Victoria. The struggle as Claire identifies it is to persuade prisons to move from being risk-averse to favouring risk management in allowing individuals to speak who used to be incarcerated themselves.
Smart Justice looks forward to reading Claire’s report and advocating for trial programs in Victoria.