Understanding the key to rehabilitation

SQUAD: The Loddon Mallee Prison graduates. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

SQUAD: The Loddon Mallee Prison graduates. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

DOZENS of people will become mentors to the region's prisoners - and help work towards the philosophy that even the hardest of criminals can be rehabilitated.

Wayne Burchell was one of 30 prison officers to graduate at Loddon Mallee Prison last month who will help prisoners back into the community and give them the skills to rebuild their life. 

Mr Burchell, who left his job as a carpenter to become a prison officer, said he was attracted to the job because of the immense responsibility that came with it. 

"You impact on vulnerable people's lives and their outcomes - it doesn't really get greater than that," he said.

"You can never be fully prepared for what will happen but we get seven weeks of intense training so we can learn about positive engagement and the things to expect."

Mr Burchell will case manage a group of prisoners, and help them work through their sentence plan, which includes targeted rehabilitation programs and work at the prison. 

The prisoners each have a job - whether it be working on the grounds or even in the community itself - and it is the prison officers' role to ensure they meet all requirements. 

Acting general manager Trudy O'Connor said it was not a matter of locking prisoners up and throwing away the key.

"No matter what offences the person has committed, we believe the prisoner can work on their issues and become ready to integrate back into the community," she said. 

"The most important step towards this is positive interactions." 

And for many prison officers, working closely with a prisoner can be the trigger for understanding.

"You get to know their stories, their lives but we work towards sympathy not empathy," Loddon Mallee executive director Jodie Henderson said. 

"This is where psychometric training of officers comes in to ensure professional boundaries are met, even in the saddest of cases."

She said manipulation was prevalent, with prisoners often using it because they lacked important life skills. 

"The crime is often a symptom of a greater problem and we really try to work towards the cause," Ms Henderson said. 

"Often these people have intellectual disabilities or are vulnerable because of their circumstances.

"They haven't had role models to teach them how to resolve conflict; it's a lack of skill and knowledge.

"That's why the role of prison officer is so important. We need to get it right."

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