When any sentence is a life sentence.
For as long as debating has existed, have opinions been voiced on whether imprisonment is for punishment or rehabilitation. Few could reason these days that they can be separated, and that rehabilitation in its many forms doesn’t make up a key element of sentencing – and of safeguarding our communities once offenders have served their time and are released. Rarely is a sentence a life sentence and thus we need to acknowledge that even with recidivism many of the people currently being housed within our prison system will eventually be part of our community.
Most striking about the Karreenga Correctional Facility is the clean, modern and well-equipped facilities. By all accounts better than many public school facilities in Victoria. Most noteworthy however, are the job training, behavioural awareness and mental health support programs offered to inmates. Rehearsing the skills required to function in our community after they are released. For many, life after prison will be the toughest experience to come. The few inmates that talked with us were acutely aware of the challenges ahead of them. With worry and fear around what comes next when the structured, managed and supported life they live whilst incarcerated ceases to exist upon release.
Fear around reintegration and the stigma of a former prison inmate occupies both the thoughts of the inmates themselves and their advocates. What if the community they are being taught to function and reintegrate in will not allow them to do so?
As leaders, we have mixed opportunity to create change in this area. For some, a direct chance or opportunity at a job or a way to contribute for a former inmate may be the contribution. For others, it may be a second thought or quiet contemplation of your own misconceptions. And for others, it may be in becoming advocates for change and champions of a cause for better support.
A fair go and second chance forms part of our cultural values as Australians. But should this be conditional? Unfortunately many released inmates will not be able to secure housing, a job or further education due the stigma and collateral consequences of their conviction.
Feel encouraged by the change and evolution in our justice system, feel encouraged that these programs are available and being provided within our prisons, but consider the challenge and that all parts of our community need advocates and support and second chances.