Heard it through the grapevine: How MAX builds trust with ex-offenders

Published by MAXSolutions on May 01, 2024
Alex female Incat worker standing on a platform in Hi Vis smiling

Alex went from serving time in prison to landing a Mechanical Fitter apprenticeship after being part of the CHOICE program.

Change is never easy, especially when your past mistakes have landed you on the wrong side of the law.

As an ex-offender, rebuilding your life and convincing others of your sincerity can feel like an uphill battle.

Yet, change is not only possible but necessary.

MAX believes that every person deserves every chance for success, which is why we actively commit to creating a more inclusive and rehabilitative environment that empowers ex-offenders to succeed. 

Integrity and relationships are the cornerstones of our approach.

Building trust is key, especially when it is common for many ex-offenders to distrust employment services (and government services generally) and have little knowledge of available supports. (Source: Rebuilding Employment Services Report 2023

Kenneth Kan is a Team Leader working with Workforce Australia where his caseload consists of 100% ex-offenders.

He stresses the importance of providing relevant information: whether it’s explaining the steps involved in creating a job opportunity that will suit them or facilitating conversations with potential employers – it's about building better understanding of what it will take.

Employment providers need to empower individuals with the resources and guidance necessary to make informed decisions about their future. 

The work in building trust with the individuals begins pre-release. Damien Martin, MAX’s Indigenous Programs Specialist based in Queensland, supports Indigenous ex-offenders through Time to Work Employment Service, a national voluntary in-prison employment service for Indigenous people. 

He begins working with individuals three to six months before their release from incarceration where he discusses employment prospects based on their skills and experiences.

He provides culturally appropriate support to inmates through capacity building, preparing their resumes, and connecting them to the right services at Centrelink.

From a comprehensive assessment of their transferrable employment skills and education, Damien develops a transition plan that provides actions that will help individuals still in the corrections system find suitable employment upon their release.  

This transition plan is then used by the employment service provider that the individual chooses to identify support or services that the individual needs to find employment after release.

The early intervention that Damien does minimises the barriers for individuals to reintegrate into society by setting realistic expectations, reducing uncertainty and anxiety around post-release employment, addressing practical needs and alleviating financial stress.  

Currently, when an ex-offender exits correctional services they have an automatic three-month exemption from mutual obligations.

This means that they are not required to engage with employment services for that period.

However, these automatic exemptions have negative impacts on post-release outcomes whereas secure employment reduces the risk of reoffending. (Source: Rebuilding Employment Services Report 2023).

This issue led MAX to establish the CHOICE Program in 2017, led by Regional Manager Georgina Price.

The program is tailored to increase employability and skills readiness for a cohort of high-risk and high-needs job seekers.

To date, over 80 individuals have participated in this program, including Alex – a young woman who went from serving time in prison to landing a Mechanical Fitter apprenticeship with a global leader in ship building. 

“MAX helped me out, helped me get a heap of tickets [qualifications for construction work]. They provided legit everything I needed to get into construction work,” says Alex.

Emma, another CHOICE customer, had previously failed parole multiple times until she came to MAX where her Job Coach and Georgina assisted her.

She shares: “They both listened to me and helped point me in the right direction of things I needed to do, [and they] put me in the courses that I needed to be in.

Nothing was ever too hard or too much to ask of them.

I look at how far I’ve come. I’ve been out of jail a year, working nearly fulltime and been drug-free the entire year. I’ve achieved everything I could ever hope for and I certainly couldn’t have done it without these two!” 

CHOICE has provided a much-needed link between Community Corrections and Employment Services.

Through CHOICE, parole officers at community corrections can directly refer inmates who have shown a desire to obtain employment to employment providers like MAX.

Georgina points out that MAX receives many referrals in Tasmania thanks to the strong relationship MAX has cultivated with community corrections and parole officers. Georgina also highlights the expertise of MAX in understanding parole conditions to best advocate for ex-offenders:

“Because we understand the system, we are able to successfully negotiate parole conditions for ex-offenders to work.”

The feedback received from community corrections also underlines the positive impact that CHOICE has on participants:

“He [participant in CHOICE] is doing really well at the moment, working towards positive goals like getting his licence, getting much needed dental treatment and also coming off [medication]. He mentioned that MAX... has been so supportive and helpful!” - Probation Officer, Community Corrections 

MAX’s commitment to integrity extends beyond mere words; it’s reflected in our actions. Georgina explains, “When we get someone a job, the word will travel through the grapevine.”

Our commitment to providing tangible opportunities for employment reinforces our reputation as a trusted ally to correction services. 


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