When you arrive at the Helana Jones Centre (HJC) on busy Sandgate Road, it looks pretty ordinary and that’s the way they like it.
The low-security, female prisoners who come here want to feel ‘ordinary’ and to go out into the world not wearing prison blues.
First impression is it looks like a child-care or day-care centre with a playground out the front, colourful murals and childproof gate.
Children can stay with their mothers.
Photos courtesy of Queensland Corrective Services
And again, that’s the way they like it – HJC accommodates mothers and their children, and 99 per cent are mums.
But the security checks to get inside indicate there is much more to this place.
The centre is attached to the Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre but also a world away from the public perception of imprisonment. The women here can work in the community, attend education programs and perform community service.
Equally important, they can have their children with them. The custodial correctional officers enjoy hearing kids in the playground and enjoy the “nice bedlam” of children racing down the halls.
Members of the public have, on occasion, pushed their prams through the car park to the gate thinking it is a public playground.
That low-key, community feel is exactly what makes HJC work. Recidivism rates are low and social capital on the rise. Women leave the centre not only with job skills but recognition, self-worth and acknowledgment.
The staff here focus on the 3Rs – rehabilitation, reparation and reintegration. They look at support systems.
With a maximum of 26 women, they can focus on building autonomy, responsibility and empowerment.
The correctional officers even hear “thank-you”, which is rare in the corrections system, along with sighs of relief as the women settle into their new environment.
Unfortunately there is currently no comparative male model in the current prison system in Queensland.
The benefits of this model are obvious not only to the inmates but the staff and the community. It shows different approaches to incarceration can and do work whereas increasing penalties does not necessarily equal decreasing crime rates.
These women have the chance to be proud of what they do and transform their lives.
Natalie Gauld is Proctor’s Managing Editor and recently visited the centre as part of Queensland Corrective Services media tour.