Minibus puts Elders on the road to help Indigenous prisoners

A new minibus to transport Elders around several north Queensland correctional centres is helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners stay connected to their communities.

The minibus, funded by Queensland Corrective Services (QCS), is used by the Binga Birry Justice Group to provide regular visits by Elders for prisoners at Capricornia, Townsville and Townsville Women’s correctional centres.

Binga Birry Elders (Back row – Uncle Paul Rakaiki, Aunty Veronica Griffin, Uncle Ray Bobongie and Aunty Brenda Vegi. Front row – Aunty Deb Netuschil and Aunty Janice Binsiar)

Capricornia Correctional Centre General Manager Paula May said the visits by the Binga Birry Elders, one of a number of groups to regularly visit, were of vital importance to Indigenous prisoners’ cultural needs.

“The Elders lead by example, bring news from home and let the prisoners know that they still belong to their communities.

“It’s about giving the prisoners a sense of self-worth and belonging to their community, which helps them deal more successfully with life inside a correctional centre, as well as improve their chances of avoiding reoffending once they are released,” Ms May said.

At Capricornia Correctional Centre, the Binga Birry Elders meet with up to 40 prisoners at the centre’s dedicated cultural area, which has been up and running for about four years and is decorated with a large indigenous mural.

The Elders also provide valuable support to the Cultural Liaison Officers and Cultural Development Officers, offering advice on how to best include cultural appropriateness while maintaining a safe and secure correctional centre.

Ms May said QCS was committed to keeping communities safe through the humane containment of prisoners, supervision and reintegration of offenders into the community and working effectively with prisoners to reduce recidivism.

“Liaison and development officers bring cultural relevance and understanding into their roles to further help preserve culture in their communities.

“We all want the same thing – to keep the community safe in a culturally appropriate way by liaising with staff, Elders, families and community,” Ms May said.

Elder Aunty Janice Binsiar said the old bus was well past its use-by-date after six years of travelling long distances.

“The new bus is much more comfortable, plus it’s an automatic, which means more people are able to drive it.

“We find we are able to visit more centres more often with the new bus and the prisoners really appreciate the extra contact,” Aunty Binsiar said.

The Binga Birry Justice Group is based in Mackay, more than 300km southeast of Townsville.

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