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Hubdate November 2019

Each of us is only one or two poor decisions away from a criminal conviction and potentially jail time and it is an unfortunate fact that some of our veterans have spent time in prison or are currently undergoing a custodial sentence. There are approximately 95 veterans currently in custody in South Australian prisons according to a report written by former infantry soldier and now corrections officer, Chris Tilley.

In 2017, Chris took it upon himself to research the South Australian prison population to find out how many veterans or persons who identify as veterans were incarcerated at that time.  Chris identified 95 veterans through this process but is convinced that there remains a number of prisoners who do not wish to be identified as veterans for a variety of reasons.  The number could actually be as high as 120.  There is now a mechanism in place to identify former ADF members who are entering the prison system.

It is widely recognised that transition from the military can be difficult, particularly for those who are discharged on medical grounds. Mental health issues can make it even more challenging, even if the individual is receiving medical support.  So when we add to this the pressure and stress of a custodial sentence you can imagine how hard life can get.

Veterans in custody is not a popular topic and they are often an overlooked demographic within the veteran community.  But these men and women once wore the same uniform and served with this nation with the same dedication and commitment that the rest of us did. We are all human and sometimes we make mistakes but it doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the same amount of support as the rest of the veteran community.

I met with Chris Tilley and Ian “Patch” Campbell, a Vietnam Veteran and Chairman of the Peter Badcoe VC Complex at Edinburgh, about a year ago to discuss this very issue.  Shortly afterward, Chris completed his report that highlights the need for coordinated support for veterans leaving the prison system.

Patch has been working with incarcerated veterans for many years but has been struggling to bring attention to their plight. We decided it was time to bring together the key stakeholders in Adelaide to discuss how we could collaborate on a veteran release support program.  The first meeting was held earlier this year and organisations such as RSL Care SA, Arcofyre, RSLSA, Uniting Care Gawler and Solicitor David Ward were present as each has a contribution to make.

I was invited by Chris earlier this year to meet with a group of veterans who were serving sentences at Mobilong Prison in Murray Bridge during one of their regular veteran group meetings. There were 7 veterans present, including a couple of foreign defence force members who had also been invited to attend. They were all relatively young and were serving sentences of various lengths for a variety of convictions, but they all spoke the same military language and shared a familiar bond as veterans. One young veteran in particular would connect with me at the Hub following his parole on home detention a few days after the meeting.

This was an opportunity to put into action the agreed support network we had discussed and it turns out that this young veteran had already received support from RSL Care SA through the Andrew Russell Veteran Living accommodation at Sturt. The network was already working. He called me to say that he was accommodated at ARVL but needed some additional support with his Community Corrections induction meeting, so I agreed to attend the meeting with his case manager.

Being constrained by the rules of his home detention meant that he was confined to his accommodation 24/7 with the exception of short planned visits to the shops for food and his immediate area for exercise. During the discussion with his case manager I offered to make the Partnerships Hub an approved place of parade for him if she would allow him to attend on a regular basis, to which she agreed. He was approved for visits to the Hub 3 days per week for three hours per day during which time I was able to connect him with additional support by bringing support services to the Hub itself. Advocacy, financial counselling and a GP were first on the list followed by connections with employment support, social reintegration and fitness activities.

Over a period of 12 weeks we were able to address the majority of his needs and provide a stable environment for him and while it wasn’t all plain sailing, it worked. He is now free of his home detention and has also had his curfew lifted.  This enabled him to travel to Sydney recently to attend an Invictus Games training selection camp, which had been one of his primary goals since being paroled.

The Hub was able to play a vital role in supporting this young veteran and will continue to do so for as long as he requires us to. Along with each of the other organisations and individuals involved, we will provide a strong support network for incarcerated veterans leaving the prison system. We may not always be successful but at the very least we are there if and when they need us.

If you or someone you know would like to access this program or any of the support services available at the Hub or just need contact details for other supporting organisations make sure you contact me on 0418 264 886 or email me at Justin.Brown2@sa.gov.au .

 

Justin Brown,

Partnerships Hub Coordinator


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