Keeping people out of prison
Winning an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellowship has allowed Dr Lesley Hardcastle the opportunity to follow her passion – keeping people out of prison.
“It is what drives me,” she says.
During the time of her fellowship, Dr Hardcastle has been working to put together the data necessary to carry out her research work.
“In many ways, that has been a bigger task than we at first thought,” she said.
“So I am probably not as far advanced as some of the other Alfred Deakin fellowship holders.
“But the work involved in meeting with people to collect the data has allowed me and the University, particularly those of us in the offender re-integration research group, to develop some important relationships.
“In many respects, the Fellowship has been an effective marketing tool for the University.
“When you’re talking to people in Government about the sort of research you’re trying to put together, it’s good to be able to say to them you are doing this on an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellowship.”
The relationships Dr Hardcastle has fostered include
those with Corrections Victoria and the Adult Parole Board.
When Dr Hardcastle’s supervisor, Professor Joe Graffam, successfully bid to be part of the Alfred Deakin Postgraduate Fellowship project, he noted that the Adult Parole Board in Victoria had a comprehensive database going back to 1999. That database contains the demographic and criminal justice history of every offender in Victoria who has had a parole condition as part of his or her sentence.
Professor Graffam believes this data could be the base for developing a model that could predict the successful reintegration of prisoners into the community.
“We need a lot of information about the life trajectories of people who come out on parole and then go back to prison,” Dr Hardcastle said.
“We need to know as much as possible about why some
people re-offend and why some don’t with the aim of discovering what
it is we need to do to ensure fewer people re-offend.
“There are just so many factors that impact on people’s re-offending behaviour including personality, health conditions, social support, financial stability, housing and employment.
“We also have at the moment another project that is looking at the community’s attitudes to the re-integration of prisoners.
“We are just about to do the mail out for that. This will be a large community survey and is one we will use as part of a submission to the ARC for a Linkage Grant.
“We are also working on a cross faculty project
with Arts and Criminology, looking at issues for higher education
students who have been incarcerated.
“So while these projects weren’t the subject of the Alfred Deakin fellowship application, I have had a wonderful opportunity to work in these areas while putting together the data for my main project.”
Dr Hardcastle believes there are many benefits from the successful re-integration of prisoners into the community.
“As well as the social reasons, there’s the economic argument,” she says.
“It costs more than $80,000 a year to keep an offender in prison.
“With a community-based corrections order, it is less than $10,000.
“It is really important to learn what it is we can do in terms of corrections programs to prepare people to return to the community.
“I think it is important for the community to know what it can do to help with the re-integration process.
“Unfortunately, stereotyping of offenders makes community acceptance difficult. When a person gets out on parole and commits another serious offence, it’s on the front page. But you never read about the people who successfully re-integrate.
“Not every offender is a danger to the community. Some have just been unlucky and want to get on with their lives once they have served their sentence.
“That requires a lot of support from the community. They need an employer to give them a job, and the willingness of other people to accept them in their neighbourhood.
“Many people may say that they believe that re-integration of ex-offenders is good, as long as it’s not in their community.
“If through this project we can develop some models for successful re-integration, then we can go to the community with more confidence to say that this works and that’s got to have a whole range of benefits for everyone, including the taxpayer.”
Interestingly, working with prisoners was not Dr Hardcastle’s first academic career choice.
“Originally, I was in education and applied linguistics, but I have now been drawn more and more into the area of forensic psychology,” she said.
“Being awarded an Alfred Deakin postdoc has taken me even further along this path and I am grateful to the University, and to Professor Graffam, for the opportunity.
“He, like so many of my colleagues, shares this
passion to keep people out of prison. It is a privilege to be able
to work on something that could possibly create a major breakthrough
in this area.”