Castan centre supports Indigenous inmates

The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law tutoring program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was launched in early August as a tailor-made approach to supporting Indigenous Australians residing at Port Phillip Prison in Laverton, Victoria.

The program has been made possible by a generous 12-month grant from The Bennelong Foundation and is administered by the Castan Centre with support from Melbourne University and Swinburne University researchers and Port Phillip Prison. The idea germinated from the work of an aspiring human rights lawyer and Indigenous Monash alumna (who wishes to remain anonymous) to use the educational resources of students and the university to create the capacity for Indigenous inmates to learn to study effectively.

The male only prison is a maximum-security facility which holds the largest number of inmates in Victoria, almost 1100. It is privately run and includes both those who have been convicted and those on remand awaiting trial. At any one time, it houses up to 100 Indigenous prisoners.

The aim of the program is to connect volunteer tutors and current Monash students with Indigenous prisoners for weekly sessions at the prison. Friday tutorial sessions run up to three hours, focussing on learning and the value of culture and community.

The first session was host to 12 Indigenous inmates with a variety of educational levels and offered the support based on their individual needs to assist them to complete a relevant pathway to education. The ultimate objective of the program is to enhance the transition of Indigenous prisoners into the community society post-release.

The program also provides the Indigenous and non-Indigenous volunteers the opportunity to venture behind the imposing exterior of a maximum security facility to provide practical support to individuals. The students and volunteers learn from their work within a social justice and welfare framework, exposing them to a range of cultural issues particular to Indigenous Australia.

The Bennelong Foundation’s funding provides for eight tutors for the current semester as well as the first semester of 2017. The Castan Centre hopes that evaluation of the program will support its expansion to other prisons, including women’s facilities, in the future.