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Prisoners as change makers

Life-changing work in Australian prisons through the Community Based Health and First Aid program

Since launching in Australia in 2018, the Community Based Health and First Aid (CBHFA) program has been bringing prisoners, prison staff and Red Cross together to implement meaningful health, safety and wellbeing projects within prison communities.

Now running in four Australian prisons, the program trains prisoners to become Special Status Red Cross volunteers within their correctional facility.

Volunteers learn skills and build confidence and self-worth, which has impact on their lives beyond the prison gate.

Prison communities benefit in a range of ways, from improvements in safety and relations between prisoners and officers, to general hygiene and cleanliness and capacity to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Inmates could come to us with their problems and we could work towards solving them. And when we got projects done inmates started looking up to us, like we were someone… it gave me a reason to do the right things, to fall on the right side of the fence.

CBHFA special status volunteer, NSW

The CBHFA program, first introduced into prisons by Irish Red Cross, was designed as a community health program by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Here, the program is delivered in NSW, QLD, WA and SA, with growing interest from other states and territories.

  • St Heliers Correctional Centre, New South Wales - the first pilot site in Australia, started in late 2018.
  • Townsville Women’s Correctional Centre, Queensland  - the first female site in Australia. Projects started mid-2019
  • Acacia Prison, Western Australia - the largest prison to implement CBHFA.
  • Adelaide Women’s Prison, South Australia.

One woman’s behaviours were problematic. She was loud, forceful (in a bad way), involved in altercations, manipulation and other adverse behaviours. Then she went into Sisters for Change and not only have those behaviours disappeared… there’s no negative case notes, and no negative behaviours.

Gay Reynolds, Accommodation Manager Townsville Women's Correctional Centre

Projects introduced through CBHFA

CBHFA special status volunteers, prison staff and Red Cross facilitators work together to develop and implement projects which respond to the needs of their particular prison community. A range of different projects have been introduced across Australia, including:

  • Hepatitis C awareness campaign 
  • Let’s talk about bullying campaign 
  • Drug and alcohol harm minimisation 
  • Hygiene promotion including the installation of soap dispensers 
  • The collection and creation of Christmas gifts to support strong family connection 
  • Safe Women Workshops to reduce prisoner-on-prisoner violence and assaults
  • Clean up crew to improve the hygiene of the detention units
  • Introducing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health Training
  • Elders as volunteers in the prison for cultural continuity and support
  • Mum’s in Jail book for children of prisoners

Watch what is happening with CBHFA at St Heliers Correctional Centre in NSW.

An overview of the Australian correctional system

Our prison numbers are growing - Up 4% in 2017/18 with 42,974 people in prison in Australia

Prison costs continue to rise - $4.7 billion total cost for the Australian Corrections system 

People being imprisoned for less serious offences - 45% imprisoned for traffic offences

The number of Aboriginal people in prisons continues to rise -– making up 27% of the prison population, despite being only 3% of the general population.

Sisters for Change

The impact of making prisoners change makers in their own community.

New research: program helps reduce prison violence

Report into prison program finds reduced violence, improved relations with guards and better health and safety.

Young male in a correction centre

Justice services

Across Australia, Red Cross is working with offenders, their families and at-risk youth.