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South Sudanese plan to reform prisoners

A network of Sudanese-Australians has received the green light from NSW Corrective Services to run a voluntary prison support program for inmates in their community so they can adjust to life outside jail upon their release.

The pilot program is expected to begin next year and is a possible forerunner to other communities connecting with inmates before they leave jail, a NSW Corrective Services spokesperson said.

Anglicare’s Migrant and Refugee Services (MARS) will co-ordinate the pool of community volunteers to visit prisoners while they’re inside, and reconnect them to a community member who will provide a ‘landing pad’ for them once they’re on the outside.

“(South Sudanese prisoners are) coming across from a war-torn country as kids and spend their childhoods trying to make sense of it – they become angry with the world in general."

– David Ajang, of STARTTS

After meetings with Correctional Services NSW Assistant Commissioner for Offender Management and Policy, Dr Anne Marie Martin, the South Sudanese community project has been approved and the finer details of the innovative scheme are now being penned.

Dr Martin said Corrective Services NSW is committed to developing partnerships with community-based organisations to provide pre-release and post-release support services to offenders and their families, including linking them with education and training institutions and job network providers.

“Transition from custody to the community is one of the most difficult steps to take without support networks to assist, and we know language barriers and cultural differences can exacerbate those difficulties,’’ Dr Martin said.

The program will be supported by the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors.

Setting the bar for reform

The Sudanese-Australian community has an unemployment rate of 22 percent, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Immigration, which has translated to a high incarceration rate.

Concern with resettlement led South Sudanese community member Daniel Apat, who works at Anglicare, to mobilise volunteers and coordinate the prison support project.

Amou Job, one of the South Sudanese community volunteers, who also works at Anglicare, said that in spite of resettlement programs that deal with housing, education and language issues, the community still experienced problems.

“Sudanese have experienced discrimination in schools - children complain about bullying, then they struggle with English at TAFE and classes are often beyond their capacity,” Job said.

“Drugs and alcohol then become a problem - many drink in parks in the afternoon...  (And) there is much depression. We refer them to other services, but often they don’t go.”

Of the 10,000 people locked up in NSW prisons on any given day, 60-80 per cent were intoxicated at the time of committing their offence, while 80 per cent connect their drug or alcohol dependence to their offending behaviour and imprisonment, according to the Community Restorative Centre.

David Ajang, a South Sudanese community member who is also volunteering for the project and works at STARTTS, said, “(South Sudanese prisoners are) coming across from a war-torn country as kids and spend their childhoods trying to make sense of it – they become angry with the world in general. They become oppositional to everything with authority. It’s complex.”

Prison is the end of the road: first, their addiction problems set in, then their family relationships break down, and finally they turn to crime, where assault and robbery can land them behind bars. When they return to the outside, familiar problems arise, he said.

“The system doesn’t have a choice - they are sent to prison and their chance for reform is low,” Ajang said.

More South Sudanese volunteers such as Ajang and Job come from a variety of organisations, including the NSW Police and the NSW Department of Justice, and university students. 

Future partnerships

Now, the pilot project could make the South Sudanese community an example of just how much can be achieved with cooperation and ambition.

Currently the number of NSW prisoners born in Sudan is less than 40 – meaning Sudanese prisoners comprise less than 0.4 per cent of the total prison population.

NSW Corrective Services has already established a partnership with the Drug and Alcohol Multicultural Education Centre to deliver post-release support services to Arabic and Vietnamese offenders.

Opportunities for partnerships with the Muslim and Arabic communities are now being sought, as well as service providers from other culturally and linguistically diverse communities, a NSW Corrective Services spokesperson said. 

The Point

NSW Corrective Services is seeking partnerships with community organisations to reform prisoners

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