An internationally acclaimed Red Cross program which improves the safety and wellbeing of prisoners has launched in Perth’s Acacia Prison, operated by Serco Australia.
Some 22 new volunteers to the Community Based Health and First Aid (CBHFA) program are today being appointed at an event in the prison. The volunteers have been recruited from among the 600-strong prisoner population of three blocks in the prison. Known as Special Status Red Cross volunteers, they will be leading a response from among the prison community to health and wellbeing issues in the prison.
CBHFA began in 2009 with the Irish Red Cross working in prisons there and has been found to improve health and safety outcomes, savings to correctional facilities, life-changing experiences for volunteers, the prisoner population and the prison staff.
Red Cross CBHFA project officer Kirrily Clarke said the impacts also extend to prisoners’ families and the wider community, with prisoners able to draw on the soft skills learned through the program after their release.
“After their recruitment, the prisoner volunteers complete five core modules of training, looking at the Red Cross Red Crescent movement, community mobilisation, working within the prison community, behaviour and social change, and psychological and basic first aid,” Ms Clarke said.
“With these skills they then work as a team to assess, understand and prioritise the prison community’s needs. They then plan a variety of projects and activities to address the needs they’ve identified. This peer-to-peer and volunteering approach has a really positive impact on health and wellbeing.
“Volunteers are empowered through the program to identify issues and improve the health, wellbeing and safety of their prison community. The program’s methodology ensures that volunteers learn by doing in the prison environment and that encourages personal development and ownership for volunteers.
"Serco were committed to supporting the delivery of this program in the prison and have worked closely with Red Cross to ensure it could be appropriately used to suit the needs of the prisoners at Acacia Prison and Serco’s restorative justice framework,” Ms Clarke said.
It’s the third prison to deliver CBHFA in Australia, following prisons in New South Wales and Queensland. Acacia Prison, operated by Serco, has a capacity of 1525 men and is Australia’s largest prison. It will be the largest roll-out of the CBHFA program in the world so far.
Ms Clarke said preliminary evaluations of the program in Australia have found it to have a positive impact. The solid support and collaborative approach from staff and management in Acacia has been appreciated.
“Participants see it as a vehicle for positive change and a change to self. Prisoners see it as empowering, and as an opportunity to improve the health and wellbeing of those around them.”