University of Tasmania
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Paying it back: does community service activities promote desistance in prisoners?

posted on 2023-05-26, 03:23 authored by Graham, Steve
The prison as an institution in society is a complex and multi layered set of social relations confined to specific geographical places. Working with prisoners in these circumstances is a necessary and important task as they are nearly all released back into society. This highlights not only issues of the causes of crime and the nature of punishment, but also the importance of understanding and supporting the processes of desistance (of ceasing offending), pro-social change and community reintegration in that setting. The task of corrections is to maintain the safe order and security of the prison, reduce risk and recidivism, and support pro-social change in prisoners. It is the latter part which is difficult as corrections broadly applies mechanisms of security, but often fails to identify suitable individual solutions. The research explores the use and impact of community service activities as a means of assisting desistance from crime for both minimum enclosed and minimum open prisoners in the custody of Tasmania Prison Service. In the past, community service has been used in many jurisdictions as a low level reintegration mechanism, seeing it as meeting the public or local community needs. This research examines the impact and benefits to individual prisoners, the agencies and stakeholders they are assisting, and assesses the efficacy of community service activities to promote desistance and reintegration. Fourteen different prisoner community service activities are considered here ‚Äö- for the first time in the public domain. The findings of this study show that community service activities have a positive impact at a number of levels: on the staff and volunteers in the agencies, the communities who are recipients and beneficiaries of community service activities and, ultimately, the prisoners who develop their social capital, showcase their existing human capital and access real opportunities and supports for reintegration. This framework is developed in the context of Tasmania, and yet has relevance and utility to be tailored for other jurisdictions.


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