Once a frontline prison worker and community advocate, creating meaningful, effective alternatives to custody is both a personal and professional ambition for Lana Sandas (above, far left). Together with her team, she is committed to helping those drawn into the criminal justice system by their circumstances to turn their lives around. Here, Lana explains what Alternative Justice is, and why working with Serco to deliver it is the natural next step in a very personal, lifelong mission.
What is Alternative Justice?
Sending offenders to prison should be the last resort. Together with our community partners, we’re developing proactive interventions to rehabilitate offenders – particularly the most vulnerable and marginalised – without removing them from their community. We also target the underlying causes of crime, which enables us to reduce first-time offending as well. Through decades of observation, we understand who is more at risk of entering the justice system; our goal is to divert them at the earliest opportunity by improving their overall quality of life.
We can achieve some of this through traditional custodial solutions, and we do, but for certain groups there are multiple deep-rooted issues to overcome. To make a real, sustainable difference, we need to be more flexible and citizen-centric, working directly with the communities we want to help.
Why is this so important to you?
As a mother I want to help create a safer community for my child to grow up in, but I’m passionate about early intervention because of my own familiarity with trauma, addiction and imprisonment. Growing up in an era that lacked accessible and non-judgemental support, I moved from victim to perpetrator relatively fast.
After winding up in a prison cell, I was given the chance to participate in a home detention programme that mandated education and therapeutic support. It was hard, but it worked. Remaining with my family and working through unresolved issues helped me take ownership of my journey for the better. It will always be my greatest accomplishment. My work today helps me process my past more positively, and I’ve dedicated my career to scaling my good fortune into a mainstream approach.
What makes Serco the right place to continue your mission?
Prior to Serco, I ran a grassroots charity that supported women caught up in the criminal justice system. It was here, many years prior, that I became the first ex-prisoner to be authorised unlimited access into state-run prisons. But despite achieving outstanding outcomes, growth was difficult for us. I knew I could achieve more through a large and innovative organisation like Serco.
I wasn’t sure my community peers would understand my joining a private prison operator, but I could see that Serco is genuinely working to make a difference and so, after many conversations with people who – like me – had been to prison, I believed it was the right move. What I love about Serco is that I can continue to prioritise the people who need support and the community groups who help them most.
What’s next for Alternative Justice?
Right now, we’re focused on our Momentum programme – improving employment outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities by removing barriers to birth certificates, driver licences and opportunities for training and employment. Beyond that, we’re looking to reframe mindsets and partner with other bold and forward-thinking customers who are ready to achieve greater impact and value for money by tackling complexity with innovation, flexibility and compassion.
Our customers really appreciate us finding new ways to help them drive social and economic change. When they hear us, a prison operator, say that building and expanding prisons is not the only solution, they want to know more. Political leaders across multiple portfolios recognise the need for alternatives and can see that success begins and ends in the community.