Connecting victims and offenders together from within prisons is an effective way to combat re-offending and reduce prison rates, according to a Christian-based prisons program.
David Way, Queensland head of the Sycamore Tree Project, said a pilot program which ran at Woodford jail had 43 inmates wanting to take part, but the program was only funded to work with six.
“A lot of people have said by the end of it their crimes finally hit them like a tonne of bricks and they realise the extent of pain they put people through,” he said.
The Sycamore Tree Project is an 8-12 week program which unites victims with unrelated offenders to discuss the impact of crime on their lives.
Mr Way said building intense relationships alongside punishment as a way of dealing with crime was a proven strategy.
“Personal face-to-face interaction is the only way to get real justice,” he said.
“You need to create a safe space for the prisoner to open up and confess their problems and when people acknowledge their problems and become contrite that is the way to healing.”
The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the Australian prison population is at a ten-year high, with almost 34,000 people currently in prison.
A University of Melbourne study from 2014 found most prisoners were unemployed or homeless six months after their release from prison, which greatly increased the chances of reoffending.
Currently Sycamore is running two programs a year in the Southern Queensland Correctional Centre at Gatton, the only prison that facilitates the project in Queensland.
Brisbane Correctional Centre nurse Helen Brown said society needed to ‘stop filling the prison with society’s problems’.
“We need to change, we have too many negative things in one space,” Ms Brown said.
“You have people who are mentally ill, people who are prone to suicide, alcoholics, drug addicts, child abusers,” she said.
“If you took all the drug addicts and alcoholics out of our jails it would be nearly empty because so many of our crimes are done under the influence of drugs and alcohol.”
Ms Brown said prisoners often had low-self-esteem which was a cause of re-offending.
“They feel trapped in the criminal poverty cycle and sooner or later they get to a stage where they don’t have enough resources to stay out of jail,” Ms Brown said.
According to Mr Way, there needed to be a more balanced system in place to stop the cycle.
“The state has created an environment where perpetrators are not allowed to re-connect with victims and apologise if they are contrite,” Mr Way said.
“This process lets the prisoners get empathy for the victim and during the eight-week process prisoners can share what life is like for them and most of the time it turns out they have been victims of tragic crimes,” he said.