Second Chance Initiative could be your New Year’s resolution

18/02/2013

Originally published in Catholic Outlook February 2013


Catholic Outlook February 2013 St Vincent de Paul Society Story
Vinnies also provides support to families who lose their ‘breadwinner’ to the prisoner system. Photo: AAP/Amy Sancetta

Got a New Year’s resolution to make a difference to your community? The Second Chance Initiative is an exciting new project which could allow you to make a major difference to Western Sydney and beyond in 2013.

This initiative is born of the fact that almost everyone is impacted in some way by crime.

The systems in place to correct the behaviour of those who serve time in prison are generally not having a positive effect. Figures from the Federal Government show that:

  • About one in four prisoners will be reconvicted within three months of being released from prison; and
  • Up to 41% of prisoners will be reimprisoned within two years of being released.

In their 2011-12 Social Justice Statement, Building Bridges, Not Walls: Prisons and the justice system, Australia’s Catholic Bishops urged us all to think about the conditions in our prisons, and to ask who are most likely to find themselves there.

“Again and again in the Gospel, we read how Jesus reached out to the marginalised and rejected, and called on His followers to do the same. It is our hope that this statement will help all Australians heed that call.

Jesus’ path to Calvary led through the gates of prison. His cousin, John the Baptist, was committed to jail and executed there. Untold numbers of martyrs and saints, including St Peter and St Paul, experienced the same fate. And it is also worth our while recalling that convicts were among Australia’s first Catholics.”

St Vincent de Paul Society in the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta is leading an initiative to try and make a difference.

Vinnies’ Executive Officer in Parramatta Diocese, Deacon Tony Hoban, said the current system was failing victims of crime, prisoners and society in general.

“The St Vincent de Paul Society often helps pick up the pieces of the failures of the system by providing support to people released from prison who are unable to financially provide for themselves. We also provide support to families who lose their ‘breadwinner’ to the prison system,” Tony said.

“The Second Chance Initiative aims to help reduce the cycle of repeated incarceration (recidivism).”

It will do this by:

  • Walking with those in prison both before and after their release to make the re-entry into society easier;
  • Establishing a group of people to support the person exiting prison;
  • Empowering the person leaving prison to be accountable for their own decisions and thereby encouraging their sense of self-worth; and
  • Assisting the person exiting prison to effectively integrate into society and linking them to various other professional and support agencies which can assist them get back on their feet.

Deacon Tony said the program would require people willing to make a difference to their community by sharing their time, knowledge and encouragement to people exiting prison.

“We need people willing to make a commitment to assist the person exiting prison until they have safely integrated back into the community. This may take a year or even longer,” he said.

Volunteers, who will be thoroughly trained for their roles, will operate in ‘circles’ of 4-6 people to support prisoners exiting the corrective environment.

The volunteers not only meet regularly with the person they are supporting, they also navigate them to services and support that can help their integration into society.

This can include employment agencies, housing providers, and professionals in the areas of medical and mental health, addictions, social workers and other social services, income assistance, psychology and police.

The Second Chance Initiative will be administered by the St Vincent de Paul Society. Deacon Tony and Katoomba conference member Lyle Jones, who has had extensive experience in prisoner support programs, will coordinate the initiative.

The initiative will utilise a proven model called Five8 (a division of Prisoner & Aftercare Support Services Ltd).

“We will also partner with a number of other agencies who have bannered together under The Throughcare Jigsaw Group and who support people inside and outside of the prison system with a range of services,” Deacon Tony said.

“But the most essential part of the program is having volunteers who are willing to help make a difference in the lives of offenders and the whole community by helping a prisoner to have a second chance.”

To learn how you can get involved, come along to an information morning on Saturday 9 March at the St Vincent de Paul Diocesan Office, Level 4, 73-75 Dunmore St, Wentworthville, starting at 10am. To learn more and RSVP please call Vinnies (02) 9689 1900.


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