Mentoring: Claire Seppings Churchill Fellowship Report
- Claire Seppings’ aspiration to generate reformative change in the criminal justice system is triggered and motivated by her substantial professional and lived experience.
• As a Social Worker graduate from Melbourne’s Monash University in 1984, Claire worked with the Department of Social Security and recently worked with Centrelink. This gave her the opportunity to develop good relationships with both government and non-government sectors.
• She became a Naturopath in which she organised and managed a 1997 healthy living program in HMP Bendigo.
- • Claire seeks to create, develop, establish and evaluate new projects in an attempt to meet her goal of reducing recidivism and community impact.
- Her commitment to these projects has been highly recognised and as such she has received a number of awards:
- o The Minister for Human Services Award for Exemplary Service to Customers and Stakeholders in 2008.
o The Victorian Custody Reference Group (VCRG) Dennis McMillin Access to Justice Award in 2012.
- • Claire was one of 23 Victorians awarded the 2015 50th Anniversary Churchill Fellowship by the Honourable Linda Dessau AM, Governor of Victoria.
• Claire has personally worked with prisoners who have expressed the ineffectiveness of the prison programs regarding the violent offender, drug and alcohol, clinical sessions. These prisoners want to change, but struggle to because they have forgotten how to live a normal life.
Summary of Claire’s research:
- Main points
o Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, but furthest from resources and power – Glenn Martin, JustLeadershipUSA.
o The recidivism rate is a great problem in Australia as it is burdening the taxpayer, causing risk to the community, disengagement of people from society, and lost human potential.
o Victoria demonstrates the significant issue of recidivism as its recidivism rate is currently at a high 44.1%.
o The Victorian Ombudsman recently reported the need for Victoria to ensure that the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners improves public safety and offers better value for the $1 billion spent each year. While it is expected that offenders be imprisoned, it is better for society that these offenders are improved after finishing their sentence in order to reduce crime.
o Claire’s research argues and demonstrates the possibility of incorporating the voice, expertise and role of people with past convictions (reformed offenders) in the rehabilitation and reintegration programs. She explains that she has ‘found the missing link in Australia is using the expert experience of those closest to the problem and valuing the reformative success stories to realise the real reform’.
o We need to remove the ingrained resistance to the concept of offenders, former offenders and their families as experts – because in this case, that is what they are.
o Claire refers to a plethora of similar jurisdictions that have effectively implemented criminal justice reform for peer mentoring. The following are the various peer led organisations, and prison and community based peer-mentoring programs that Claire argues could be applied in Australia:
- Recommendations for the future.
In Claire Seppings’ document she provides seven headings under which she outlines some recommendations to benefit the criminal justice system in the future.
- Juridical Policy: This includes the representation of the user voice at the highest level and acknowledgement of reformed offenders strategic involvement in decision making, designing and developing policy are promoted.
- Language: The use of language is powerful. It is necessary to recognise positive potential and development and avoid identifying people with behaviours they want to leave behind with stigmatizing and stereotyping labelling.
- Reformed Offenders as Leaders: As is practice in overseas jurisdictions, reformed offenders should be recognised for their expertise and potential to provide valuable leadership and insight into policy.
- Prisoners As Peer Mentors: Prisoners view professional staff as authority figures and are more likely to listen to individuals that have ‘walked in their shoes’. In custodial settings, peers can form pro-social communities that realise wider benefits such as supporting managerial and front-line staff.
- Reformed Prisoners as Peer Mentors: There is a sound theoretical rationale for through-the-gate peer mentoring to support current service users reducing their likelihood of re-offending, drawn on the extensive insight and learning offered from a range of research and evaluation reports to inform policy.
- Criminal Records: The long-term consequences of a criminal record hamper a person with convictions the ability to contribute to society, even after they have served their time and stand ready to serve their community. The laws around disclosure of a person’s previous criminal activity need reform to help improve the rehabilitation prospects of those convicted of a criminal offence.
- Recruitment, Security, Training and Support: To ensure NGO’s providing peer-mentoring programmes have effective recruitment, risk management, training, supervision, and support practices for example Justice Departments should adopt a risk management approach and develop specific prison service instructions covering security vetting for peer mentors in correctional centres.
For further information on issues surrounding Claire’s work please look to the following websites.
Claire Seppings’ information and bio:
Media articles to attach to webpage: