Creating a Pathway to Reintegration: Australian correctional services employment programs and their connection to VET

Professor Joe Graffam
Pro Vice-Chancellor
(Research Development and Training)
Deakin University

The Australian Correctional System(s) in Context

In Australia, the number of offenders in correctional institutions in 2011 was 29,106, with a rate of imprisonment of 174 per 100,000 of the adult population (0.11% of the population).

Over half of prisoners in custody at 30 June, 2011 had previously served a sentence in an adult prison (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011), with 38% of prisoners released from 2006-07 returning to prison, and 45% returning to corrective services (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2011).

About one quarter of adult prisoners are reconvicted within three months of release, with between 35% and 41% being reimprisoned within two years (Payne, 2007).

Nationally, approximately 1/3 of convicted offenders are incarcerated and 2/3 are serving community based orders

It has been estimated that between 60% and 70% of offenders are unemployed at time of offence


Prevalence of Indigenous offending

Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in the Australian correctional systems (e.g. ABS 2010; SCRGSP 2011). Currently, Indigenous prisoners represent 28.3% of Australia’s prisoner population (SCRGSP 2011), about 10 times their representation in the Australian general population.

The rate of imprisonment of Indigenous Australians is much greater than non-Indigenous Australians. The national age standardised imprisonment rate for Indigenous adults is 1,811.1 per 100,000, about 14 times greater than the national rate for non-Indigenous adults at 127.1 per 100,000 (SCRGSP 2011).

Like their non-Indigenous counterparts, Indigenous offenders are characterised by high rates of repeated short-term incarceration (ABS 2010). There is an over-representation of Indigenous males convicted of a violent crime, with alcohol and substance use linked to this outcome (Willis & Moore 2008) despite lower consumption of alcohol generally.


VET in the Australian Correctional System(s)

The History of VET in the Australian Correctional ‘System’

  • Basic adult education available in Australian prisons since early 1900s.
  • 1996 – Senate Report of the Inquiry into Education and Training in Correctional Facilities, (SEETRC, 1996) recommended national strategy.
  • 2001 – National Strategy for Vocational Education and Training for Adult Prisoners and Offenders in Australia (ANTA, 2001) launched.
  • 2006 – All states and territories had a suite of VET courses in place within correctional facilities and available to those completing community orders / sentences.
  • Present – VET more valued and popular than industry or service work; demand exceeds availability; wide range of courses from short courses to trade qualifications; collaboration with clinical, industry, and custodial services; variability across jurisdictions.


The ‘System’ of VET in Australian Corrections

  • Sentence management, sentence length and uptake of VET
  • Industry work, Service work, VET and the award of gratuities
  • From short courses to apprenticeships and traineeships
  • Variability across the ‘systems’

            NSW – centrally operated + TAFEs + other RTOs; comprehensive range

            VIC  – local TAFE campuses inside prisons; comprehensive range, no transport

            Qld – TAFEs + other RTOs; comprehensive range

            SA – centrally operated (RTO); comprehensive, no transport or CA

            WA – centrally operated (RTO) + other RTOs; comprehensive range

            TAS – centrally operated (RTO) + TAFEs + other RTOs; no transport or CA

            NT –  centrally operated (RTO); only CA and literacy/numeracy


How VET Works and Its Relationship to Employment Preparation

  • Four objectives in the national strategy: 1) improve access to VET;              2) participation and attainment across a range and levels of VET;                3) contribute to reintegration pathways; 4) accountable system and equitable outcomes.
  • More than ¾ of prisoners are eligible for participating in VET
  • More than ¾ of prisoners work in prison industry or services
  • Very few undertake apprenticeships or traineeships (but this is rising)
  • Prisoners value VET over in-prison work
  • There is a high level of collaboration and mutual support between VET services, clinical services, custodial services,  prison industry, and employment services


The Federal Employment System: DEEWR

Employment assistance is provided through the Department of Education, Employment, and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). From commencement of JSA in July, 2009, through March, 2011, ex-offender job seekers have constituted approximately 11 per cent of total caseload. Approximately 22 per cent of ex-offender job seekers have been Indigenous ex-offenders.

Over that period, 87,472 ex-offender job placements were achieved, with Indigenous ex-offenders accounting for 16% of the total.

With respect to 13 week outcomes, 27,069 ex-offender outcomes were achieved, with Indigenous ex-offenders accounting for 16% of the total.

With respect to 26 week outcomes, 13,985 ex-offender outcomes were achieved, with Indigenous ex-offenders accounting for 15% of the total. Although somewhat under-represented in the outcomes, Indigenous ex-offenders have been effectively assisted into employment by JSA providers (figures courtesy of DEEWR).

As well as funding the entire network of JSA providers, DEEWR provides the Indigenous Employment Program (IEP) which funds a broad range of program initiatives throughout Australia.


State Programs


Advance2Work—Queensland Department of Corrective Services and DET

Advance2Work, has been operating across Queensland since 2000. The program provides support from five locations to prisoners who are released from all custodial centres in Queensland. Prisoners begin the program within six months preceding release.

Program providers ensure that the participant profile is representative of the state’s prisoner population. The program provides a range of employment related supports including training needs analysis, vocational training, job search skills, job placement, post employment support, and referrals.

Between July ‘07 and December ‘09, 7,460 persons were assisted: 1,918 (25.7%) placed into employment; 1,337 (17.9%) retaining employment for at least 13 weeks; 2,063 (27.7%) were Indigenous. Of those achieving 13 weeks of continuous employment 232 (17.4%) were Indigenous. This performance is comparable with mainstream JSA performance, and the effectiveness of the program in supporting Indigenous participants is very good.


State Employment Programs

Victorian Employment  Assistance Programs—Corrections Victoria

Various forms of employment assistance for offenders and ex-prisoners have  been operating within Victoria since 2004. The programs have provided support from several locations to prisoners who are released from selected prisons and community corrections offices around the state. Prisoners begin the program within six months preceding release. Offenders commence while on orders.

The program provides a range of employment related supports including training needs analysis, vocational training, job search skills, job placement, post employment support, and referrals. More than half of participants have been ex-prisoners, although prisoners comprise 35% of the total corrections population.

Over time, there have been thousands of participants and between 34% and 40% of participants have been placed into employment. Between 16% and 19% have retained employment for at least 13 weeks. This performance is comparable with mainstream Job Services Australia (JSA) performance.


Prisoner Employment Program—Northern Territory Correctional Services

The Prisoner Employment Program has three tiers: the Community Service Work Parties (CSWP); The Volunteer Employment Program (VEP); and The Prisoner Paid Employment Program (PEP).

This program has shown considerable success in helping prisoners transition from prison to the community. In the first 12 months since the PEP was restarted, 16 prisoners participated in full-time paid employment, seven participated in paid training programs (with two achieving full-time paid employment on completion of their sentence) and an average of 4 to 6 prisoners were on paid employment each month. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of PEP participants are Indigenous.


Prisoner Employment Program—Department of Corrective Services, Western Australia

This is a five-stage pre-release to post-release program including: application; assessment; case management; placement; and post-placement support. Participants must have completed more than half of their sentence.

The program operates from nine locations in Western Australia, including metropolitan and regional prisons. Paid employment is at award levels, with all standard clearances (police check, workers compensation cover etc.)

The program has been successful in placing ex-prisoners in employment after their release from prison. The extent of involvement and employment outcomes of Indigenous offenders is not known at this time.


Ways of Facilitating Sustained Development

  • Increase the emphasis on non-employment outcomes

VET, industry training and work experience outcomes ‘micro-gains’ and referral to other providers and direct support formalising reporting of non-employment outcomes (and remunerating providers for the achievements).

  • Provide more assistance with life change and transition issues

emphasis on referral to other services and/or connecting clients social welfare services a holistic response, government working together with non-government organisations. 

  • Lengthen program eligibility time

2 years would provide more time for individuals to gain employment or achieve 13 week outcomes and more time for post-placement support of all kinds for those in need.