In 2011 were invited to rejuvenate a defunct Father’s Days programme operating in Risdon Prison which assisted children of offenders to spend time with their incarcerated parent. Based on the Kid’s VIP information from PACT we subsequently developed this programme to become very effective across the Risdon Prison estate operating in each of the four prisons four times a year. We retitled these events Kids Days recognising that focus of the events is for the benefit of the children.
This initial work with families expanded to include the construction of Hillside Haven, a house on the church property, to accommodate families from regional areas visiting family in prison. Through the provision of very inexpensive accommodation, families have been able to double their number of visits and avoid travelling to the prison and home again in one day. Having been operating for about 18 months, this resource has been a fantastic provision that has helped us to support families of offenders. The occupancy rate for the house is in excess of 50%, and 80-90% during school holidays.
In October 2013 we took family support a stage further with the introduction of Video Visits. After an extensive trial we set up RVCs (Regional Visit Centres) in a number of churches in the North of the state. Families book a normal visit through the prison Visitors’ Centre, then rather than drive to the prison they go to the RVC, undergo the necessary identification checks, go into a family-friendly secure room equipped with video equipment and are connected via video to the prisoner. Inside the prison of one of our support workers meets the offender during the normal visit process, provides him/her with a video-enabled tablet and supervises the visit. Regional Visit Centres have now been established in Burnie, Devonport, Launceston, Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and regional centres on the mainland.
Video Visits have been extremely helpful in connecting some children, who would not normally come into the prison, for a visit. This system has also enabled us to provide compassionate visits for funerals, terminally ill family members, terminally ill inmates, and even a wedding.
The introduction of a Prison Based Family Engagement Worker commenced as a trial in October July 2014 and commenced in earnest in May 2015 following a Churchill Fellowship Study of this role in UK prisons.