A proper welcome from Victoria Corrections, finally!

What a great day yesterday was, I was exhausted at the end an collapsed into a deep satisfied sleep. I had not managed to arrange any prison visits in Melbourne or Victoria in the run up to my trip and was feeling a bit ignored and frustrated. I met up with some interesting people, but was not getting to the heart of the matter. Each state has its own strict rules about access to the correctional facilities. ACT had been relatively easy as a small and forward thinking state, but the mighty Victoria was another matter. My emails had bounced around from desk to desk to department – finally someone said yes! My request had landed on a senior project manager from the education department at the government department of justice. She arranged a full day visiting two really interesting prisons and talking to staff. I arrived at the Justice Department at 8.45 am as instructed and felt immediately under dressed and casual, it was shiny glass government tower block full of suits and officials. They were very welcoming however and we went down to the 5th level of the carpark (really) to pick up a government car for our trip. Driving us was an prison education manager, a bright spark called David who had been seconded to the government department and wore a sharp suit and shades – felt a bit like Men in Black. They could not have been more interested in my work and we talked non stop about prison education, my time in Canberra, UK experiences and my work.

The first place we visited was a women’s prison called the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre (DPFC), built about 12 years ago housing about 420 women of mixed security. We were shown around by the Rehabilitation Manager who was a driven personality and bubbled over with enthusiasm for what works in the prison. The more prisons I visit and the more I mix with criminal justice departments and prison staff I realise how personality driven it really is. Perhaps this is the case in all professions? A good prison regime is down to a great Director or Governor – committed and intelligent staff who pioneer stuff with the right attitude make all the difference. PDFC was busy place, the women have to do 30 hours a week of  education or work. Industries are laundry, nurseries and horticulture, cooking and kitchens and packing and mending Quantas head phones. The education was almost entirely delivered digitally – four or five computer rooms for different subjects – very impressive. The women worked their way through the facility on good behaviour which was rewarded by work and living privileges – I really believed Scott when he told us his ‘primary job is to prepare the women to go home’ – low level and open, it what is known as a ‘campus prison’ – some cell blocks, some cottages, education block, health block, work units, gardens – Micheal Gove take note.

Australia is a new place, yes there are ‘old’ prisons but nothing like our victorian hell holes – I know I am being spoilt and shown the best ones, the ones they want to show off – and I am impressed. Deborah, the government official, is over seeing a massive change in the education provision for Victorian facilities. Like in the UK it is contracted out and she has just awarded the contract to a new provider who have never worked in prisons before. She really gets digital story telling and is quizzing me about its uses and my iPad project – I feel like she’s about to offer me job!

Our next port of call is a male facility called Marngoneet, the name is taken from the local Wathaurong community and means ‘to make new’ – now there’s an idea, new prisons, new inspirational names (Michael Gove take note 2). This is a therapeutic community prison, people get referred here as part of their sentence – the different ‘neighbourhoods’ treat different mental health issues; addiction, violence, parenting and work skills, sex crimes and psychological problems. each neighbour hood a discreet community – a ‘spine though the middle of the campus divides the protected prisoners from the general pollution and house shares facilities like education and health. Its a brilliant design once again, it appears to work.



Of course all the places have their problems, volume of prisoners being one – all the prisons I have seen are throwing up new blocks and have doubled capacity which is going to change the feel. Never mind ‘superprisons,’ I would advice that no more than 500 people should be on one site, but thats probably impossible and expensive with prison numbers as they are.


Victoria is a ‘no smoking state’- its great for me as I hate the fact that I smoke occasionally I would rather the temptation was removed entirely – its amazing, they brought in smoke free prisons in July 2015. They preceded the ban with 12 months of ‘stop smoking programmes’ and each prisoner is entitled to 12 weeks of patches on arrival. Of course this has just created a new currency in the prisons and tobacco is now contraband at a high premium. There were riots in one of the remand prisons apparently sparked by the rule, fires, it is being rebuilt – I can imagine that happening in the UK, but now everyone is just about okay with it. Prisoners, as inventive as ever, have found a way to turn the nicotine patches into tobacco by soaking tea leaves in the patches and then drying it out “Tea-bacco” is now a lucrative business. One teacher at Marngoneet was telling me about a break in at the prison to a store where all sorts of contraband was kept, stanley knives, treats, and all that was taken were the nicotine patches.

The prison was making great use of a computer network supplied by Prison PC, more about them later, it is a prison that is small enough to try things and be responsive. they were doing some amazing things with computer aided design. I have plans for a project I want to take to the Ministry of Justice, about prisoners designing their own prisons – I liked it a lot.


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