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Australia Parkrun gets prisoners back on their feet, addresses recidivism and boosts morale

00:35  25 november  2019
00:35  25 november  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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This decreases recidivism and gets the former prisoners the help they need and also guides them in the right direction. One other solution would be job placement result of this fall back into crime. With these programs they can get help with getting back into the world and changing their life for the better.

This decreases recidivism and gets the former prisoners the help they need and also guides them in the right direction. One other solution would be job placement result of this fall back into crime. With these programs they can get help with getting back into the world and changing their life for the better.

a group of people walking down a dirt road: Dhurringile prisoners taking part in the weekly parkrun at the prison. (ABC Shepparton: Rhiannon Tuffield)© ABC Shepparton: Rhiannon Tuffield Dhurringile prisoners taking part in the weekly parkrun at the prison. (ABC Shepparton: Rhiannon Tuffield) A new sporting program has been introduced to boost morale and reduce recidivism in a northern Victorian prison notorious for breakouts.

Dhurringile Prison is the first in the southern hemisphere to hold a prison parkrun, which it has been successfully running since April this year.

Staff at the prison want to get the message out that it's not about being soft on crime, but rather helping prisoners get back on their feet.

Every Saturday morning since autumn, Victorian prison inmate Chris (not his real name) has put on his joggers and made a run for it.

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The 5-kilometre stretch of gravel and grass gives him time to think, but the sound of his fellow inmates' feet pounding across the terrain offers a constant reminder of where he is and why he is there.

"My charge was armed robbery, and I got five years for that," he said.

"It was over a period of a few years where things went horribly wrong for me — the loss of a job, the loss of my daughter, and things just fell over."

Dhurringile Prison is not your average prison — or at least it doesn't fit the picture of what many perceive a prison to be like.

Open paddocks and dairy country line its border, fences are low, there's no barbed wire or towering gates and a prisoner could easily walk out if he wanted to.

The low security facility is notorious for breakouts, but corrections staff are adamant on turning that reputation around by providing a positive incentive for prisoners and improving their mental health.

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Ironically, getting back to work decreases recidivism , but there are barriers for ex-convicts finding work. Many prisoners have limited education and Studies have shown that prisoners who maintain consistent contact and connection with their families during their sentences have a lower recidivism

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"Jail's not a good place, regardless of where you are it's not a good place to be," Chris said.

"Mental health is the biggest hurdle, so once you get over that it's sort of trying to value your time in here and get what you can out of it where you can."

Prison program still draws criticism from community

The parkrun is a place where prisoners can come together, have fun, break records, and blow off some steam according to Dhurringile's sport and recreational officer Benyamin Gallo.

Prison sport and physical activity programs can play a key role in supporting prisoners to rehabilitate, particularly those nearing the end of their jail term.

Research into the initiative has shown that sport has improved physical and mental health outcomes, supported prisoners through adjusting to and coping with life in prison, and reduced violence and conflict.

"I think it's really important because the whole point of our program is to help reintegrate them," Mr Gallo said.

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"Being in prison it can be a bit of a mind game at times, just because if you've got nothing to do you can get in your own head a little bit."

The parkrun at Dhurringile takes inmates across two large ovals and through the cottage-like community of the jail.

And even though it's still held within the grounds of the prison, many see it as a break from day-to-day work at the facility.

Mr Gallo said that often drew criticism from the wider community.

"There is still a bit of stigma behind them enjoying themselves and having fun, which is understandable, especially from a victim standpoint," he said.

"But the more they take part in programs like this, the more of a feeling they get of being out in the real world and that's what we want.

"We want them to live and be a functioning member of society."

Sport provides positive environment for prisoners

Dhurringile staff member Bernie O'Brien has also been taking part in the run each week and said it provided a positive environment that many of the prisoners may not have been exposed to.

The parkrun is run by prisoners for prisoners and Mr O'Brien said it changed the way a lot of prisoners looked at life.

"Having been involved in sport all of my life, and especially with kids, I see a lot of the backgrounds they come from, and that's why a lot of them go off the rails," he said.

"If they have things like this in their lives, it has to be a huge positive to what a lot of them have been involved in.

"Sport gives you the confidence to really feel good about yourself and hopefully these guys doing parkruns can get that too."

Chris, who only has eight months left of his sentence, said getting involved in sport when he entered prison changed his perspective.

"I think the headspace I was in when I first entered prison was very lonely. I suppressed a lot of my feelings until I came and did some courses in jail where I could talk about my feelings and problems," he said.

"The hardest part is to try and manage your own emotions. So when you can do that you're on your way to becoming free physically and mentally."

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