Helping prisoners about to leave jail better identify the resources available to them in language they understand, and getting them into stable, quality accommodation are two of the key findings of an ACT study released on Monday.
It is the first such study which specifically focused on the needs of prisoners in the Canberra justice system.
The ACT government last year budgeted to spend $98.7 million on its corrective services and spends an average $310 a day to keep a detainee behind bars.
The study team interviewed 11 ex-detainees from the Alexander Maconochie Centre at length, attempting to determine whether the existing Throughcare support system worked for them and whether it properly addressed their needs.
The study overwhelmingly highlighted the high anxiety levels felt by detainees as they prepared to leave their stable and ordered life in prison, and how this challenge was a strong potential trigger for recidivism.
The project was conducted by Dr Caroline Doyle, the president of Prisoners Aid ACT, a solicitor and a lecturer at the University of NSW School Of Business. Additional informed commentary was provided by Dean Lloyd, a 45-year-old ex-detainee who now runs support programs in NSW.
The issue of people re-offending and returning to jail is a national issue, with 46 per cent of people being released from prison returning there within two years.
In the ACT, the number is slightly lower at 41 per cent however, nationally the ACT has the highest number of people - 71 per cent - who either return to jail or receive a corrections order. For indigenous men and women in the ACT, the issue of recidivism is much higher.
The ACT justice and community safety directorate is implementing programs aimed at reducing this by 25 per cent by 2025.
Dr Doyle's pilot study used "lived" experience of people who have been through the corrections system and the frustrations they have experienced attempting to re-assimilate.
These individuals spoke of their challenges finding employment, repaying debts, addressing underlying health issues, accessing trauma counselling and reconnecting with family and friends.
The study, which interviewed ex-detainees ranging in age from 25 to 55 years old, found inherent shortcomings in the current Throughcare system set up to assist prisoners about to leave the jail, and after they exited.
This is despite findings by the University of NSW three years ago which declared the ACT system effective as it had cut recidivism by 23 per cent.
Most ex-detainees felt they were of not properly prepared for life "outside" and did not have full understanding or were confused about what services could support them. Most were distrustful of the researchers conducting the interviews.
One of the interviewees, speaking under the pseudonym Brian, had been in Canberra's jail at least twice.
"So the first time I was released, there was a bit of support," Brian said in his interview.
"Not ongoing, just like do you need a taxi home? Do you have shoes to go? That sort of support.
"This time I was just released, no questions, no case manager to come down and see me. Nothing. So it was quite nerve wrecking. I was questioning myself, am I even getting out?"
Another said "a lot of people don't know [what support is offered]".
The uncertainty about where they were going once released and what they might face was repeatedly highlighted.
One interviewee said: " . . . I remember being in there and people are like, you're going home, you're going home, but I'm thinking, but I don't have a home".
"What do you mean I'm going home? I'm getting out but I'm not going home, there's no home . . . "
One of the key recommendations was for preparatory pre-release programs and materials in language the detainees could better understand. There were also long waits for suitable housing.
An intensive peer mentoring pre-and post-release program, such as that conducted by the Fyshwick-based Worldview charity which has since been forced to downscale its operations because of reduced funding, was also identified as critical to breaking the cycle of recidivism.
ACT Corrections was contacted for comment.