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Skilling the Correctional Services workforce to help vulnerable offenders

The Corrections work environment is transitioning towards a more rehabilitative model, with greater emphasis placed on offenders’ mental and physical health.  AIS is supporting the Corrections Industry Reference Committee (IRC) to respond, which will see the development of new skills standards for working with trauma-affected and cognitively impaired offenders.

As a direct result of the 2020 Skills Forecasts update submitted by the IRC, with the support of AIS, the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC) has approved two new Training Package development projects.

TRAUMA INFORMED APPROACH 

Research suggests that incarceration is closely associated with factors such as childhood physical and/or sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness and mental health issues. People in prison have significant and complex health issues whose effects could be long-term or chronic. Approximately 40 per cent of offenders in prison are reported to have had mental health conditions with 25 per cent of them currently taking medication for mental health. The issue of mental health is even more common among female offenders where 65 per cent of them were more likely than male prisoners to report a history of a mental health condition, which is a key risk factor in offending and re-offending behaviour for both male and female prisoners.

Therefore, a trauma-informed approach that is holistic and culturally appropriate can make positive impacts on offenders and reduce their chances of recidivism.

The Corrections IRC will revise three existing Units of Competency, develop two new units and one new Skill Set for Correctional Services Officers working with offenders who have a history of trauma.

Project outcomes will ensure Correctional Services Officers working with vulnerable offenders have the appropriate skills and knowledge of the effects of domestic violence and abuse (emotional, physical and sexual). This will enable them to make informed decisions about appropriate models of supervision for offenders with a history of trauma and to establish a rapport and trust with vulnerable individuals.

WORKING WITH COGNITIVELY IMPAIRED OFFENDERS

There is a high rate of mental illness, including cognitive impairment, in the Australian prison population. About two in five prison entrants (40 per cent) have a mental health condition, with almost one in four currently taking mental health-related medication. Also, 87 per cent of young people in custody have a past or present psychological disorder. To cater to mental health issues in prisons and facilitate transition to the community, the Corrections workforce requires specialised skills in understanding patterns of behaviour and thoughts of individuals with cognitive impairment to de-escalate stressful situations and engage effectively with offenders.

The Corrections IRC will revise three existing Units of Competency, develop one new unit and one new Skill Set for Correctional Services Officers working with cognitively impaired offenders. This project will address the skills, knowledge and understanding required by Correctional Services Officers to work with offenders with cognitive impairment, where an offender has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life.

For more information, contact Katherine White on 0448 181 661 or email Katherine.White@aistnds.org.au.