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Acacia prisoners make amends

Published: 19 Nov 2012

Acacia Prison is this week recognising International Restorative Justice Week with a series of programs to highlight different ways offenders can engage with the community to overcome past mistakes.

Restorative Justice is an approach taken that allows offenders of a crime to learn from their mistakes and resolve wrongs by engaging with victims and the wider community.

Acacia senior chaplain Alan Forsyth is a strong advocate of restorative justice from his 21 years of experience in prisons, which led him to complete a thesis on the subject.

Father Forsyth describes the concept of restorative justice as a way to help heal rather than punish.

“We are really looking at the offender, victim and community harmed by the criminal act and the best way to recognise the hurt and to minimise these things happening again,” he said.

“At Acacia we are using a world leading program called Sycamore Tree which brings together victims and offenders, not necessarily from the same crime, to tell and hear each other’s stories.

“It is a powerful way to show the effect of their actions and takes the offender through a process where they have to take responsibility for their life and their actions.”

The Sycamore Tree program had seen some 18 groups participate to date, giving offenders the opportunity to see crimes through the eyes of the victims and understand their perspective.

Father Forsyth said the overall aim of restorative justice and the Sycamore Tree was to reduce reoffending and provide a type of indirect restitution with the offender repaying victims and the community.

He also said direct action like the Sycamore Tree project was part of a holistic program to develop behavioural changes. Acacia Prison is linked up with a range of community groups to allow offenders to maintain a link between the activities they undertook in prison and the results outside.

A range of other initiatives will be highlighted during Restorative Justice Week and in addition to Sycamore Tree, these include Acacia’s current list of restorative justice and community projects:

  • Alternative to Violence Project, a restorative justice program that is run both in the community and the prison environment where offenders forgo their visits to participate.
  • SAFE Avon Valley Acacia Animal Care Training Program, where dogs are taken into the prison from the local pound where prisoners assist with the training or retraining of the dog to make it more adoptable into a family environment.
  • Princess Margaret Hospital for Children’s Ruggies Foundation receives funds from Acacia recycling programs managed largely by prisoners.
  • Eyesee Vision Project, where prisoners recycle used eye glasses for delivery to Indigenous Communities within Australia and third world countries to assist with vision problems.
  • Men of the Trees seedling program, where prisoners use donated seed to develop a nursery and grow seedlings before donating them back to the community to assist in regrowth of areas.
  • Outcare Youth program received a fully fitted out trailer van for a job skills program helping  young misplaced and previously incarcerated youth.
  • Chidlow Voluntary Fire Brigade received a fire trailer fully fitted with tank to assist with the local volunteer fire brigade.
  • Acacia Prison also supports a number of local schools by donating limestone blocks made in the prison for use in building playgrounds and other amenities.