News & Current Affairs

By Elizabeth Beard

09.08.17

The Alexander Maconochie Centre’s Surprising New Program

A controversial new program currently being trialled in Canberra’s corrective centre, the Alexander Maconochie Centre, sees the most problematic prisoners mentoring the most vulnerable to help with rehabilitation and prevent reoffending.

The program works on a buddy-style system, pairing difficult prisoners with a prisoner from the Special Care Centre, the unit in the prison which houses new inmates and those with intellectual disabilities, drug addiction and mental health problems.

As the program allows some of the most violent and dangerous prisoners a considerable amount of autonomy, it was carefully considered by prison officials before being implemented. In particular, a significant number of evidence-based examples were evaluated to demonstrate the success rates of these type of programs.

Prison Guard, Terry Martens admits he was hesitant when the idea was first suggested. He was particularly worried about the choices for the mentor program as he had had a fair bit of contact with two of the prisoners and didn’t think they were appropriate for the position. However, he was surprised by the success of the program, commenting how working with these prisoners showed them genuinely trying to change.

Forensic psychologist Ahu Kocak insists the trust placed in the detainees is what makes the program work, ABC News reports.  The prisoners selected as mentors are carefully trained through a five-week training course and undergo weekly debriefings. Kocak states ‘we had faith in them at a time when they probably assumed that wouldn’t be happening, and probably at a time when they thought no one would have faith in them ever again, so that was a pivotal point.’

Matthew Taylor, a prisoner selected for the program, had been in prison for three and half years for burglary, firearms and drugs charges and admits he was far from a model prisoner. He says he was regularly in trouble, fighting with officers and detainees and using ice regularly.

For Taylor, becoming a mentor changed his outlook on life. His experiences in gaol made him want to influence younger prisoners to not follow in his footsteps. He believes the program’s success comes from detainees helping other detainees, saying ‘when it comes from a bloke who has been through the same stuff, its different.’

Following two suspicious deaths in the past year, the Alexander Maconochie Centre has been plagued with scandal. However, prison manager Don Taylor told 7.30 this new program shows the prison is improving. He states the prison is focused on performing better for the prisoners and ensuring they are prepared for leaving the centre.