DEVELOPING REAL WORLD SKILLS AND GIVING BACK AT NUMINBAH
Numinbah Correctional Centre, QCS’ low security centre for women in the Gold Coast Hinterland, is an hour and a half drive away from Brisbane, set against the backdrop of the tranquil Springbrook National Park. On a recent visit, I was welcomed by Deputy General Manager, Julie Steinheuer and her team to learn more about the great work being done there.
Julie has worked in corrections for 28 years and, after a stint in the army and 20 years in NSW Corrections, says the move back to Queensland to work at Numinbah has been the highlight of her career. Not surprisingly, she tells me that the environment has a big part to play but, importantly, emphasises the commitment of her “fantastic” staff.
She attributes their support and teamwork to the successful transition of the centre to women only in 2012 and the construction of new accommodation in (year). She adds that their oversight in selecting the most appropriate prisoners for the new accommodation has meant that the facilities are still as good as new. “The women seem very invested, they take a lot of pride in them and have developed their own rules about respecting the accommodation,” said Julie.
In this vein, she mentions how important it is to select the right prisoners to transfer from high security centres into a less restrictive environment. I ask her about what kind of changes she sees in those who transfer and she tells me how she has seen growth in the prisoners. “There were a couple of male prisoners, who came to us from a secure centre with terrible communication skills. They would grunt and barely acknowledge the staff. One of the things we really focus on is compelling them to interact with us. One in particular, was with us for a couple of years and by the end you could engage him in full blown conversation,” said Julie.
“We’ve had similar cases with the women too. One woman, by the time she left after a long stay, was an eager and an enthusiastic worker and ready to be a contributing member of society.”
This is not always the case though, as Julie explains, “Some of the prisoners don’t make the most of the opportunities we offer them. They come with a closed mind-set and don’t work hard, fill in their days and make their time go as fast as possible. That’s disappointing.”
The opportunities that Julie refers to are abundant and as we walk around the property it’s clear that the majority of the women willingly participate in a variety of programs, projects and work opportunities.
Our guide for the day and the driver of these projects is Centre Liaison Officer, Paul Longman. Taffy, as he insists on being called has been at Numinbah for 14 years after emigrating from Wales in the late eighties. Taffy’s job is to build mutually beneficial relationships in the local area to achieve the main goal of the team at Numinbah: reparation.
The centre works hard to fill labour gaps and give suitable prisoners the opportunity to give back to the community. He says community projects are the lifeblood; “we usually have a bus with up to 11 prisoners that go out every week day to various locations on the Gold Coast to do anything from domestic cleaning and cooking to general maintenance of properties and buildings as well,” said Taffy.
The benefits of these partnerships are two-fold, with volunteer organisations struggling to fill shortages, prisoners can give back to the community while building skills and self-worth. Taffy says that one of the most important things he has learnt is the power of this work for emotional rehabilitation, “One of the nicest things I’ve had said to me from the community workers, was how good they feel about it. They feel worthwhile. I didn’t realise how much self-esteem is a problem for them; for being in jail, for making the wrong decision. They really enjoy going out for a hard day’s work, working alongside volunteers as well and paying it back,” said Taffy.
Of course, this would not be possible without the participation of the many community organisations who contribute to the reporting and supervision of the women, all of whom go through a strict assessment to participate. These relationships are a testament to the genuine investment of Julie and Taffy, who agree that their Community Advisory Committee and many stakeholders are integral to the centre’s work, “we’re really part of the community here and they’re very accepting of us” said Taffy.
At the beginning of our day at Numinbah, Julie commented that, “the place has a good feel to it”, and she’s right. The way she puts it, the team at Numinbah “tries to give (the prisoners) the best opportunity to make some changes and do something different with their lives when they get out”. After seeing Numinbah first-hand, it’s clear that the officers and management embody all that QCS aims to achieve in ensuring community safety and minimising re-offending through rehabilitation.