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Storybooks helping fathers in prison bond with their children

Acacia Prison and Wandoo Reintegration Facility in Western Australia have been featured in the Daily Mail for a unique program helping fathers in prison connect with their children. The award-winning Storybook Dads program originated in the UK and was introduced into Australia at Acacia Prison five years ago.

Serco Resettlement Manager Elaine Toovey (pictured) told the outlet that the program has benefited everyone involved – especially the children.

"[The mothers] say 'can you please do another recording? I know this book inside out – we play it in the car, at home, when they go to bed', and it's a really positive outcome," she said.

Ms Toovey recalled one inmate in particular who told her the program had made such a difference to his relationship with his infant child.

"He came and told me 'my baby didn't know me, didn't know my voice, but now he talks to me on the phone, he recognises my voice' and I just thought, how powerful is that?," she said.

Managing Director for Justice and Immigration Heath Chapple said the program has been beneficial in supporting prisoner rehabilitation at the Serco-operated facilities.

"We know through experience and significant research that connection to family, both while in prison and on release, is a key factor to reduce reoffending," he told the outlet.

"Storybook Dads maintains this link. Importantly, it also bridges other programs that enhance successful rehabilitation such as education through reading and writing, and social skills like anger management and engagement."

He said the program helped contribute to Wandoo Reintegration Facility achieving a recidivism rate that is half the national average for adults and the best in Australia.

"We know men who engage with programs like Storybook Dads are better placed to engage with family and society on release," he said.

Fathers with low literacy skills are helped to read through a parroting system.

The program can be accessed by inmates who have remained charge-free inside the prison for more than three months and those who have not been charged with child sex offences or issued a violence restraining order.

Prisoners are encouraged to write their own stories for their children, and often change the names of characters in the provided books to the name of their child. Prisoners can choose to purchase the books to accompany the CD recording for their child to read along.

At Acacia, three inmates are tasked with the job of editing the recordings, giving them skills to enter the workforce upon their release.

"It's a great skill to leave with," Ms Toovey said. "They all love it, they think [the recordings] are so funny".

Read the full story in the Daily Mail.