Prison supports help reconnect prisoners with their lives

Jesuit Social Services recently hosted Year 11 students from Xavier College, who spent a week learning about our programs and services. WILLIAM VERGANO reflects on the work of our Reconnect program, and the positive impact it can have on people exiting prison as they seek to move on with their lives.

Imagine walking out of prison after being incarcerated for the last 5 years of your life. You’d be excited to continue your journey of life, right?

No.

The reality hits you when you walk out that door. Where am I going to sleep tonight? How am I going to connect with my family and friends? How do I stand a chance of being employed with no qualifications? How am I going to be able to put food on my plate? These are common questions from people who have spent a lengthy time in prison.

Statistics in Victoria show that a total of 43.6% of prisoners return to corrective services after being released from prison. These statistics are distressingly high and indicate a significant issue in youth and adult corrective services and their methods.

Unfortunately, this can be partly put down to the lack of integration programs offered to the prisoners after their release. Fortunately, organisations like Jesuit Social Services and reintegration pathways programs such as ReConnect, work to bring these numbers down by helping those who have been involved in the justice system re-learn the skills to successfully navigate life in the community after their release from prison.

The Reconnect program is offered to prisoners up to 18 months before their release, to help smooth the transition from the fixed timetables of prison life to the complete freedom and choice of life in the community. By teaching prisoners how to provide for themselves and gain trust in friends and community it helps ease what can often be a stressful transition back into the community.

Reintegration back into society poses significant problems for recently released prisoners. The supports offered by Jesuit Social Services through the Reconnect program help people exiting the prison system to obtain an ID, arrange travel and somewhere to live, both on the day of release and in the future, connect with Centrelink, access health and mental health supports, and improve their chances of putting life in the prison system behind them.

Jesuit Social Services has called on the Victorian Government to invest in a youth specific program (for those 18-25 years with provision for those up to 30 years of age) to break the cycle of offending before it becomes entrenched. It will address the key difficulties facing young adults including providing pathways to education, employment, housing and reconnection to family and community, as well as provide support for people to recognise the impact of their offending on individuals, family and community.