Community Restorative Centre and Jailbreak Radio in Sydney

19 Jul
The view from my hotel room in Sydney. You can see the peaks of the Opera House at the right edge of the bridge.

The view from my hotel room in Sydney. You can see the peaks of the Opera House at the right edge of the bridge.

The Community Restorative Centre (CRC)—an aptly named nonprofit in Sydney—works holistically with prisoners, reentrants, and their families from about four months prior to twelve months after a person’s release from incarceration. Providing intensive case management work for folks with a variety of needs, the organization particularly targets folks who have to navigate multiple significant risk factors, like homelessness, addiction, and mental illness. They work with family members to help facilitate transportation to visits and an understanding of the types of support that reentrants will need when they come home. Mindy Sortiri, one of the staff at the CRC, was kind enough to meet with me during my time in Sydney and explain to me a little more about what’s going on in Australian prisons. In general the Australians and New Zealanders I’ve met seem totally horrified by the lengths of prison sentences in the United States. The majority of incarcerated Australians—around 89 percent—will serve less than two years. Five percent of prisoners in Australia have a life sentence or another form of nondeterminate sentence. A life sentence here can mean natural life but seldom does. Many life sentences in Australia come with a mandatory non-parole period—a minimum number of years that a person must serve on that sentence which can range from ten to thirty-five years, though it appears that the upper limits of that range are infrequently used. Australia abolished the death penalty in 1973, and the folks who’ve mentioned the death penalty in the U.S. since I’ve been here tend to do so with a grimace and a shiver as if speaking of a form of torture from the middle ages, which in fact it is. Australians who get caught in the net of the criminal justice system do face many of the same issues encountered by their counterparts in other regions of the globe. A study produced by researchers at Griffith University in 2008 found that 42.8% of percent of folks in prisons in the state of Queensland have such low literacy skills that they could not read well enough to hold an entry level job or understand paperwork given to them by the prison system. Another study from 2014 found that most formerly incarcerated Australians will remain homeless and unemployed six months after their release from prison. Aboriginal Australians and the indigenous folks of the Torres Islands make up just 3% of the total population of the nation but comprise 28% of Australia’s prisoners. In youth detention centers 51% of those locked up are indigenous. Clearly, even with significantly shorter sentences than those we see in the U.S., Australian incarceration devastates communities and disproportionately affects people of color and those who lack education. Sounds a lot like home. The Community Restorative Center seeks to “improve our clients’ quality of life by providing practical and emotional support,” which strikes me as a noble and attainable goal. The most artistic wing of the CRC is a project called Jailbreak Radio. The program is supported by public health funders in New South Wales and broadcasts public service messages about HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, but the bulk of the radio show features poetry, music, and interviews with incarcerated folks. It seems that there’s a lot of music programming in the prisons near Sydney. Local men’s and women’s facilities in Windsor have active musical groups, and the men’s prison actually has a recording studio inside it where Jailbreak Radio frequently records segments. Several reentrants work with the show’s host Kate Pinnock to help produce Jailbreak Radio, so the program itself offers both an artistic product shared with the public and real world training and support for formerly incarcerated people. Listen to Jailbreak Radio here online to see just how great the show is.

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