ACT News


'When you talk, you heal': Indigenous prison guards to help inmates rehabilitate

Ida Hanley knows she can help Canberra's Indigenous inmates heal.

Her family, themselves ripped apart by the stolen generations, understand all too well the enduring pain and hurt that follow many Indigenous Australians into jail.

Strong role models helped her build a happy life as a mother of three, who forged a career in security and concreting, and lived in Indigenous communities across the country.

Now, she's training to be a guard at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, where she hopes her background will build the trust needed to help rehabilitate Indigenous inmates.

"These guys have got a lot of displacement in their own communities, with their own families, and that's a by-product of the stolen generations," Ms Hanley said.

"Displacement could lead to crime, it leads to a lot of things, mental breakdown. I'm a product of that, and a lot of these guys are [too].


"If they can see me doing the job that I'm going to be doing, and being a positive role model ... I didn't fall through the cracks, you don't have to fall through the cracks."

Ms Hanley is one of 12 Indigenous prison officers recruited as part of a deliberate campaign since 2014.

The ACT government's major expansion of the ACT jail, designed to cope with overcrowding pressures, has required a significant boost in recruitment.

More than 100 new prison officers have been hired since 2013, according to data released by the government.

The government has sought to diversify the guard workforce by recruiting higher proportions of women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Of the 27 guards hired this year, for example, 12 were female and five identified as Indigenous.

It's a strategy that Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury hopes will improve the prison system, giving a more "nuanced" approach.

"Greater diversity across our correctional workforce can deliver better in-prison outcomes because it brings broader life skills and experience to the management of detainees and that provides for more nuanced people management," Mr Rattenbury said.

Ms Hanley's aunties and uncles were forcibly removed from her grandparents and placed in missions.

"When my grandmother died, they weren't able to see her, they weren't able to say goodbye," she said.

The hurt of that, she said, still rippled through her family.

She is determined to use her past to help others to deal with their own hurt.

"When you get that communication happening, that rapport, they will know that I'm like them, to a degree, and that's how you start," she said.

"When you talk, you're healing. That's our culture."

Ms Hanley is in the second week of a 10-week training program.

The Indigenous guards have arrived at a crucial time for the jail.

The death of Indigenous inmate Steven Freeman has the local community mourning, and has left his family and community leaders with serious questions about his treatment.

It has also sparked a review into his treatment, and offers of counselling and support to other Indigenous inmates.