Graduate prisoners to improve health and safety at Townsville prison

The wellbeing of prisoners at Townsville Women’s Correctional Centre (TWCC) is set to improve with the graduation on Friday of more than 20 prisoners who have completed Red Cross courses in health and first aid.

Sisters for Change, unique to TWCC but part of the highly successful International Federation of Red Cross’ Community Based Health and First Aid (CBHFA) program, uses Red Cross personnel to train prisoners as special status volunteers who then work with TWCC “champion” Officers to make positive changes and help fellow prisoners in the correctional centre.

TWCC Deputy General Manager Kristine Winter said Sisters for Change was one of three pilot programs currently led by Red Cross in Australian correctional centres.

“We are very proud that we have the highest number of volunteers in the nation, with 25 prisoners trained in first aid and 18 in mental health first aid.

“QCS is dedicated, through programs like Sisters for Change,  to the delivery of rehabilitation and education services to target employability, education, family and parenting skills, and psychological wellbeing as well as more intensive interventions to address anger, violence, domestic and family violence, substance misuse and sexual offending,” Ms Winter said.

The Irish Red Cross launched the initial program in the Irish prison system in 2009 as a unique approach to improving community health, hygiene awareness and first aid skills in prisons using groups of Red Cross volunteer inmates to promote health and wellbeing in the whole prison community

It is now run in all 14 Irish prisons, has recruited more 800 Red Cross volunteer inmates and been credited by prison authorities with improving safety, hygiene, health and well-being.

CBHFA has won several awards including a World Health Organisation Award for Best Practice in Prison Health.

Australian Red Cross Community Justice and Partnerships lead Rachel Montgomery said the program is based on community development principles that train prisoners to provide a community-wide response to health issues within the prison.

“It’s driven by the needs identified within the prison community. Volunteers are empowered through the program to identify issues and improve the health, wellbeing and safety of their prison community. The program’s methodology ensures that volunteers learn by doing in the prison environment and encourages personal development and ownership for volunteers,” she said.

“The soft skills transferred to volunteers have long term benefits that last well beyond the prison gate. The volunteers involved are identified by prison staff with support from Red Cross. Each week they take part in sessions over the course of several months, completing five core modules, before being qualified to deliver further health interventions in the prison.”