Offender Rehabilitation in Australia: Northern Territory Correctional Services' Ending Offending - Our Message Project

By Hunter, Wendy; Fitzgerald, Christine et al. | Corrections Today, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Offender Rehabilitation in Australia: Northern Territory Correctional Services' Ending Offending - Our Message Project


Hunter, Wendy, Fitzgerald, Christine, Redston, Tom, Corrections Today


As a result of wide community consultation and research, the Northern Territory Correctional Services (NTCS) in Australia established that the needs of both the offender and the community could be best addressed through an integrated approach to intervention and training delivery. Ending Offending -- Our Message was the resulting initiative and it was officially launched in September 1999. This project focuses on providing skills that are most appropriate to the location and lifestyle of the individual. The strategy requires an ongoing dialogue between the program facilitator, training provider, the participant and his or her home community. This exchange is facilitated by the project's Web site: www.ourmessage.org.

This site provides a focus for interventions that range from substance abuse to community maintenance. There are no other prison-based Web sites that provide the framework for training delivery, community involvement and participation. Comparable training programs delivered within the custodial context are characterized by compartmentalization and limited opportunities for evolution. This program is designed to accommodate the changing needs of individual participants as well as the needs and expectations of the community. Sales of artwork and music generate an income that is given to the Victims of Crime Assistance League in line with the agency commitment to provide reparation.

More than 250 male and female inmates in Darwin and Alice Springs correctional centers currently are involved in this program, representing 25 percent of the total prison population in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia. Participants are producing stories, paintings, songs and music CDs that address alcohol and drug use and offending. This product is marketed via the Web site. The content of much of the music and artwork reflects the choices made by offenders prior to imprisonment, the effect of their crimes on victims and the realities of prison life. Throughout this "world first" initiative, participants undertake nationally accredited Vocational Education and Training (VET) in areas such as literacy, music and art industry skills, computing, woodwork and trades. Participants are enrolled in nationally accredited modules and units from the following courses: arts and crafts, entry-level music industry skills, general construction, general education, introductory vocational education, access to employ ment and further study, and national office skills.

Major factors associated with offending and recidivism in the NT are limited employment prospects, low education levels and dangerous levels of drug use. Collaboration between the Prisoner Education Unit and the Alcohol and Other Drugs Unit ensures that the intervention addresses offending behavior and, at the same time, delivers specific VET learning outcomes and competencies.

Alcohol-related offenses account for approximately 70 percent of all imprisonments in the NT. Approximately 35 percent of offenders released return to prison within two years. Aboriginals from English as a second language (ESL) backgrounds represent about 60 percent of the total prison population. NTCS is providing an intervention that addresses these statistics and meets the community expectation that the principles of sentencing be respected.

This project represents an innovative and collaborative approach to interventions for indigenous people in correctional settings. Using art and music as primary mediums and incorporating them into nationally accredited training modules, participants are exploring, conceptualizing and sharing their stories about drinking, offending, culture, country and community. Through this process of mutual discourse, alternative patterns of alcohol use are explored, promoted and reinforced, not only within the correctional centers, but also through consultation and promotion within participants' home communities. A number of indigenous language groups covering most of the northern territories are involved, including Anindilyakwa, Gupapungu, Kunwinjku, Luritja, Murrinh-Patha, Tiwi, Western Arrernte, Walpiri and Yolgnu.

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