Connective Services: Post-prison release support in an urban Aboriginal population

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Copyright: Williams, Megan
At least 80% of Aboriginal people in Australian prisons have been there before. They have long been over-represented, constituting 27% of the Australian prison population yet 3% of the community population. These disproportionate numbers highlight that existing legal, prison and throughcare policies and programs remain ineffective. The limited inclusion of Aboriginal cultural knowledge and practices in policy and programs renders them theoretically and culturally irrelevant, despite documented commitments by governments to enact the wholistic definition of Aboriginal health and wellbeing. Programs inadequately address underlying and compounding risk factors such as poverty, poor health, discrimination and racism. The vast criminal justice research and advocacy on preventing reincarceration recommends that people need more support after release from prison, with the community better prepared to provide it especially in urban areas where most are released. Public health studies show mounting evidence that Aboriginal cultural processes strengthen family and community connections and promote health and wellbeing. Social work studies acknowledge that social support is instrumental in assisting a person to transition from one life phase to another, as an independent determinant of health and wellbeing. At the intersection of criminal justice, health and social work, this research aimed to explore post-prison release social support from an urban Aboriginal perspective, and its role in preventing reincarceration. Designed as a qualitative grounded theory study, three rounds of data collection were completed, comprising 36 in-depth interviews with individual Aboriginal ex-prisoners released from prison at least two years prior to interview, as well as Aboriginal family members and Aboriginal service providers. This research identified a range of connective, practical, emotional and spiritual post-prison supports, as well as the timeliness of support, and the relationships in which support occurred. Many participants explained their multiple roles in preventing reincarceration – being at once family members, peers, service providers and holders of voluntary governance positions, providing support across individual, family, community and system levels. This thesis and its underlying research proposes that an ecological model of health could usefully inform criminal justice policy and practices, through embedding contemporary Aboriginal world views and leadership in mechanisms urgently needed for reducing incarceration rates.
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Williams, Megan
Jackson Pulver, Lisa
Ritchie, Jan
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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