Left to right: Professor Mark Halsey (Flinders Criminology), me, Dr Melissa de Vel-Palumbo (Flinders Criminology) with a box of Magnolia Project books.

This week I have been focused on assisting desistance in prisons. I have been thinking about how our prisons might best assist people to desist from offending, following their release from custody. For too long we have underestimated how the prison environment, the prison regime, and prison staff can impact successful ‘rehabilitation’. We rely too much on people in prison completing programs targeting offending behaviour (or criminogenic needs).

Desistance work at Macquarie

To assist desistance, I have been working with colleagues from Flinders Criminology and the managers, officers, programs staff, and people in prison at the Macquarie Correctional Centre in Western NSW. Together we are developing a new way of approaching ‘rehabilitation’ by applying a well-established criminological theory: desistance theory.

Desistance basically means to cease or stop offending. (There are many more complex definitions, but this is its core meaning).

Some of the Macquarie programs actively promote what academics call ‘tertiary desistance’. This involves a shift in a person’s sense of belonging to a pro-social (rather than antisocial) community. Tertiary desistance is often associated with a recognition by others of a willingness and ability to change. Such programs provide opportunities for people to give back to the community (or seek redemption). They also enable the community to acknowledge people’s efforts to change.

One of Macquarie’s programs allows people in prison to make Mother’s Day cards. It is highly successful; valued by people in prison and family members alike. Last week the Magnolia Book Project provided participants in Macquarie with some children’s books. This means that people in Macquarie can now also send a book as a gift to a child. And so, in a small way, our book project is supporting tertiary desistance in people in prison as far away as NSW.