See you on the flip side: an investigative and educational TV documentary on issues faced by incarcerated male and female offenders who are released into the community in NSW

Criminology Research Council grant ; (13/93-4)

The Criminology Research Council funded the initial research project as an exploration for a documentary regarding recidivism in offenders. Recently correctional services across Australia have focused on the need to use community alternatives as a result of the negative side effects of imprisonment. The offender population in NSW gaols has risen rapidly due to increased rates of reception and longer sentences associated with truth in sentencing. Recidivism appears to be stabilised around 30% although follow-up studies are not adequate.

The aims of the first phase of the research project were to:

  1. Explore the issues that are faced by male and female offenders who have been incarcerated for a period of time and identify predictors that may lead to a successful return to the community rather than reoffending.
  2. Consider the profile of an average male and female offender, the effects of institutionalisation, a personal history of institutionalisation, the effects of sentencing and preparation for release.
  3. Recidivism rates for particular categories, age groups and so on, predictions on the likelihood of reoffending, the effects of a documentary on behaviour as a possible form of external monitoring, community perceptions of the ex-offender, and what form of rehabilitation is offered by the Department of Corrective Services and if this support is meeting the needs of the offender.

A summary of overseas and particularly Australian literature regarding recidivism in offenders was developed. The results were also summarised in a table outlining research hypotheses related to recidivism regarding factors such as type of offence, gender, age, family history, juvenile history, behavioural/psychiatric history, imprisonment/sentence, education and vocation in gaol, work release, release, employment, accommodation and substance use.

The next phase of the research project was to interview potential subjects. Initial interviews were conducted in Parramatta, Emu Plains, MTC Long Bay and Mulawa Women's Prison using a list supplied by the Superintendent of inmates who were due for release towards the end of 1994. Permission to interview inmates had been given by the Deputy Commissioner of NSW Dept of Corrective Services.

Those inmates who agreed were interviewed regarding their present offence and sentence, previous offending history, family relationships and plans upon release.

A vignette was written based on self-report and information gleaned from prison officers. The purpose was to match the information to literature, attempt to gauge the reliability of the inmate and predict which inmates may place a camera crew at risk s/he was in the community. Those inmates chosen were further interviewed on camera at a later date. Staff members from the Public Relations Unit of the Department of Corrective Services accompanied us and read through the information sheet with each inmate, and asked them to sign a consent and release form.

The final phase was for the psychologist to access client files through Correctional Services and Correction Health Services. This phase was deferred until funding to make the documentary could be obtained.

The results of the research project to develop a documentary has been a literature search and summary, consideration of factors that may lead to recidivism, a number of interviews of inmates willing to participate, vignettes summarising their offence history and future plans, and a documentary script (first draft). Funding is currently being sought to make the documentary and all inmates interviewed have been informed of this.