Our vision is for a community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, and prison truly is the last resort.
Our purpose is to strengthen the wellbeing of communities by advocating for and delivering services which divert people away from the justice system.
Our values are passion for our work, belief in humanity, integrity in all we do and innovative spirit.
Tribute to Stan McCormack
In April 2021, Stan McCormack passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 77. His legacy of ‘challenging the injustices of the justice system’ and delivering support services for people who may not have others to turn to lives on through the work of ACSO.
There is a saying that from small things, big things grow. Stan was released from prison and set out to establish a new support service for ex-prisoners. This was no easy task. Back in the 1980s, there was no government policy or funding to establish services for prisoners; this was left to the religious charities reliant on ‘missions for humanity’. This was also the era of the ‘blue stone college of knowledge’, of punitive ‘hard time’ and the prevailing notion that ‘nothing works’ in regard to prisoner rehabilitation. But Stan persevered and would not take no for an answer. He had a ‘fire in his belly’ and knew in his heart that people who had gone to prison needed ‘a house, a job and someone to care for them’. He believed in the strength of humanity, the goodness in all people, and that government systems needed to change.
He believed that people needed a second chance or a third, fourth or fifth – which means building relationships free of judgment. Stan believed that people should not be defined by the crime they committed but by their acts of kindness and their commitment to change. Stan’s beliefs continue to run deep within the culture of ACSO. They frame the organisation’s values and vision, which is “for a community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, and prison truly is the last resort.”
Maintaining Stability and Growth During Challenging Times
Around this time last year, we believed we had weathered the storm of COVID-19 and that 2021 would be a better year. However, we have again faced incredibly challenging times with the pandemic and its effects on our service model, our staff and especially our clients. But ACSO has a way of facing these challenges head-on and, in many ways, our year has proven that it is possible to maintain a high level of quality and service, with strong values and a fundamental belief in our vision.
Importantly, we are now a third of the way into our Strategic Plan 2020-2023 and our organisational vision for “a community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive”. Our strategic direction aims to improve client and community wellbeing outcomes by:
In 2022 we will pursue a growth strategy across Victoria, NSW and Queensland, following our vision to provide better outcomes for our clients. ACSO has a proud history in working with some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and we are committed to providing our services to improve the wellbeing of our clients and society as a whole.
An Opportunity for Change
The pandemic has provided an opportunity for government and the community to re-imagine what role prisons and community-based treatment have in improving justice outcomes. During this time, governments around Australia also continued to question and examine the social and economic value that the criminal justice system delivers. In 2021, the Victorian Parliament Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee conducted an Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice System. The Australian Productivity Commission also conducted research into “Criminal Justice: An Economic Perspective”. The objective of this study is to develop an economic framework for examining the costs and benefits of imprisonment and alternative policy responses to crime. We look forward to sharing the results of these two key pieces of work when they are released.
At a time when the predicted social and economic costs of the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to accelerate, it makes sense for the community to challenge the effectiveness of incarcerating people who have committed non-violent offences. The social costs of family disconnection, unemployment and untreated addiction and mental illness are as significant as the economic costs of building and operating more prisons when the evidence shows that 40-50% of people return to prison.
The Productivity Commission notes that there has been a 33% rise in incarceration in Australia over the past 20 years, which is the third highest rate in all OECD countries since 2003.
ACSO believes that government policy across all states and territories should focus on non-custodial alternatives for people who have committed non-violent offences. Service reform needs to address the health and community service gaps which represent drivers of crime, including homelessness, alcohol and other drug issues, untreated mental illness, family violence and debt. Governments must be prepared to reinvest savings from the justice system into community-based treatment and support that prevents offending. By not acting now to prevent people with significant social vulnerabilities from cycling repeatedly through our courts and prisons, we risk creating a much larger group of serious violent offenders in 20 years’ time. Creating and funding better community-based social housing and treatment options for the ‘hard to engage’ complex-needs cohort will reduce the risk of future serious offending and the costs of increasing incarceration.
Social Housing in the Criminal Justice System
The logical starting point would be to stop building more prisons and redirect this funding to creating alternatives to remand or pre-trial detention. ACSO recommends that specialised justice-supportive housing programs and dedicated social housing options should be established and funded. As part of our commitment to reduce incarceration, ACSO has created and funded our own subsidiary social housing organisation, McCormack Housing. McCormack Housing will become a Registered Housing Provider in Victoria in 2022, and then gain national provider registration. In Australia examples of integrated therapeutic community housing programs exist, however they are primarily focused on rehabilitation for substance abuse and mental illness. People involved in the criminal justice system have trouble accessing these programs, leaving a significant service gap for corrections agencies and courts.
To address these gaps, a new policy, service design and funding approach is needed. Courts and corrections agencies must be able to obtain priority service access for specialised community housing programs for their hard to engage and service cohorts. ACSO is one of a limited group of agencies with the capability, risk appetite and vision focused on reducing the number of people trapped in the criminal justice system.
We extend our appreciation to the ACSO Board, executive team, employees and stakeholders for their ongoing commitment and support during the challenges of the pandemic. We also acknowledge the significant contribution of board members Kathleen Barker, Janine Holloway and Judy Finn who retired from the ACSO Board in 2021 and welcome new board members James McGinnes, Nerita Waight, and Justice Jane Dixon.
We are very proud of the culture we have built at ACSO, which is evidenced by the results of this year’s annual employee engagement survey − 89% of our employees participated with 76% positive engagement.
On behalf of the ACSO Board, executive team and employees we are proud to share the ACSO Annual Report 2020-2021 with you.
$1.3M was won in COVID-19 related grant funding for improvements in facilities, expansion of workforces and development of our business support systems.
new strategic projects
Implementation of 7 new strategic projects during the pandemic.
Delivery of 35 programs across housing, AOD, mental health, case work, clinical practice and residential services.
Provided service for over
people across 3 states
Supported 122 participants per month through the Community Support Program (CSP) via a hybrid model.
ReConnect increased service delivery by
ReConnect increased service delivery by 510 more referrals than the previous year and recorded the lowest rate of unplanned exits, with only 18% of participants exiting returning to custody or disengaging from the program.
Supported 1,429 ReStart participants to successfully reintegrate into the community after being in custody, on remand, or sentenced for a short period of time – 658 (46%) of participants were (female).
Transition to Work (TtW) also placed 91 young people into employment or education, with 94% of participants advising that we provided enough opportunities for them to work towards their career goals and 84% advising the program worked in a way that met their individual circumstances and needs.
CREST expanded their services
CREST expanded their services into Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre and added Borallon Training and Correctional Centre to the locations ACSO service.
Transition to Work (TtW) supported
Transition to Work (TtW) supported 238 young people, of which 26% identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Engaged with 8,122 CREST clients. This can largely be attributed to the positive relationships our staff have within QCS (Queensland Corrective Services) which has allowed smooth transitions and minimal impact on clients during lockdowns.
I was lost when I entered prison and to be honest felt like a lost puppy getting out… I feel that [my case worker] saw who I was, put forward opportunities and assisted me in the ways that I needed. I felt supported and respected.
My TtW coach helped me heaps! She was always there when I needed her and helped me find a great job. I’m very pleased with the time I spent with ACSO.
37 residential clients were supported through SFDA and STEP. Four transitioned onto more independent living, one returned to Corella Place, one returned to custody.
Provided housing for
Housing was provided to 18 young people through our Youth Residential Rehabilitation Program (YRR).
The Youth Residential Rehabilitation Services (YRR) program, also known as Solomon Street, was thrilled to see one resident, Nate, taking big steps towards completing his General Certificate of Education. Nate had to complete an enrolment interview along with a literacy and numeracy test and is now attending regular classes, tutorials, and 1:1 training that will help him develop skills and confidence for his chosen pathway – computer engineering.
From Little Things, Big Things Grow at Aspin House
A small patch of Golden Square in Bendigo burst into a sea of green as the Aspin House Edible Garden Project got under way. Faced with the tired remnants of what was once an “ornamental garden”, residents and employees set about transforming the space into something more productive and drew up plans to create an edible garden. Many hours were spent digging out the old ornaments, pulling weeds, and replacing them with fresh soil, and prepping for the coming plants. Next came chooks, and with the help of facilities maestro Pat Murphy and the muscle of house team members Rod Brady and Ash Layt, an enclosure was built to house the ‘Aspin chooks’, Lisa, Catherine and Harry! By Christmas 2020, the garden was alive with over fifty varieties of veggies, herbs, berries and fruit trees, and was humming with the buzz of bees, the cackling of chooks, and the cheer of residents and team members.
“This has been a huge undertaking,” said team member Neil Foley. “We planted the seed of the idea with the residents and management, and everyone took to the concept with gusto”. The garden now produces tomatoes, okra, squash, parsley, basil, oregano, chilli, eggplants, various berries and fruits and enormous zucchini of multiple varieties. “For some reason, the zucchinis here have gone absolutely nuts,” said Neil. “Maybe it’s the gold dust in the Golden Square soil, we’re not really sure, but they’re absolute beasts!” Faced with such a glut of giant zucchinis, all manner of dishes emerged from the Aspin Kitchen – zucchini slice, roast zucchini, zucchini soup, stuffed zucchini, zucchini cake, and zucchini stir fry among them.
referrals to COATS via
the justice system
13,917 referrals to COATS via the justice system, with the majority of clients assessed and referred to counselling (either standard or complex). The program also supported staff by building on the foundations of a peer group supervision structure, additional peer-based learning and reflective practice.
Assisted 440 clients through the Family and Carer Support Service Program with one-to-one counselling, peer support, information and education groups for people with a loved one struggling with addiction.
Intake and referral
Intake and referral support for 4,342 individuals to the Voluntary Alcohol and Drug Program (VAOD). The team also expanded to work out of Mildura and other locations to help address waiting lists.
Mental Health Assistance Program (MHAP) supported 344 clients (inclusive of Youth Residential Recovery Service – YRR), as well as helping more than 1,000 people access the NDIS in the past three years alongside other PIW partners (EACH, NEAMI).
Mental Health Assistance
Program (MHAP) supported
Referrals to the Short- Term Intervention Program
76 Referrals to the Short-Term Intervention Program (STIP) and a grant from Gippsland PHN.
Other highlights from the year include
Thank you so much for treating me with respect and without prejudice.
I genuinely felt like you were able to connect with me on a human level while leaving out the adversarial structure that so many individuals in positions of authority naturally tend to adopt. Thanks for making me feel a little positivity, and less anger towards my whole situation. I’ve learnt that one can waste a huge amount of time and energy being angry and/or negative, but I left your office feeling neither and although I had a lot of work ahead of me, you managed to give me a nice little trajectory to begin the whole process. Thanks for allowing me to keep parts of myself and my dignity throughout our encounter. I was once known as intelligent by my peers, and there once was a time when I was a straight A student.
You took me at my word and spoke to me accordingly, without obfuscation or prejudice. Too many times I’ve interacted with individuals that consider you a junkie first, and once you’re a junkie, you’re viewed through that lens so any hope of self-respect or even confidence is quickly gone. Every question I answer seems to be taken as a lie unless I can provide documentation to support my claim. There’s a lot more I could list but this would turn into a thesis! I just wanted to let you know that you have had a profound impact on me and it made my life so much easier at that point in time with all of the depression and anxiety I was wrestling with. I just wish everyone who is released from prison had you as their ACSO assessor or even just to have a conversation about mental health strategies. Your help means so much more to people than I think you may ever understand.
Highlights from the year include
ACSO’s Practice Team highlights an investment from ACSO’s Board in increasing the standard of evidence-based practice across the organisation. The Practice Team consists of two senior practice advisors, supporting front-line service delivery across Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales.
During the 2020-2021 financial year, the Practice Unit led the development and introduction of organisation-wide clinical and practice frameworks. These frameworks align with evidence-based principles and guide inclusive practice, particularly with regard to assessment, service planning and client support, assessment, treatment and care across all programs and services in the organisation.
ACSO’s Clinical Services plays a pivotal role in the provision of behaviour support services to NDIS participants, clients with a cognitive impairment and particularly those residing across ACSO’s Specialist Forensic Disability Accommodation Services.
Highlights from the year include
Client Case Study
Zac* arrived at ACSO’s Specialist Forensic Disability Accommodation (SFDA) and Clinical Services in 2013. Zac has a cognitive impairment and has experienced trauma associated with family violence and disruption from an early age. Prior to entering ACSO’s SFDA residential services, Zac had been through various youth and disability service providers, with varying degrees of stability and success. This was due to the emergence of problematic sexualised behaviours, which at one stage resulted in Zac being placed on a Custody Order under the Secretary of the then Department of Health and Human Services.
Upon entering ACSO’s residential services, comprehensive needs and risk assessments were undertaken, which were used to inform support and treatment plans. Between 2013 and 2021, Zac was subject to a Supervised Treatment Order under the Disability Act 2006 (Vic) and he was supported by a multi-disciplinary care team to engage in treatment, services and support that met his needs and provided benefit. Over time, the care team and Zac worked towards reducing the frequency, intensity and severity of problematic sexualised behaviours. The work undertaken by Zac and his care team ultimately led to an assessed reduction in his risk to others and himself. Zac continued to be afforded stable support arrangements, opportunities to engage with his chosen community in preferred activities and he participated in a graduated reduction in supervision arrangements, culminating in the removal of the Supervised Treatment Order in May 2021.
The practice and approach adopted with regards to Zac’s care and support ultimately helped him develop meaningful connections and relationships in the community, while preventing further contact with the criminal justice system. The past eight years have been among the most stable in Zac’s life and he has continued to report overall satisfaction with his personal relationships, sense of safety in the community and quality of life.
Within the first year of the strategy’s implementation we have:
You don’t feel the fire until it burns you and I’ve touched the fire. You don’t know what it’s like until you’ve experienced jail and how it affects you.
Since the age of 13, I have had many encounters with the justice system, in part due to a culmination of childhood trauma, substance abuse and many bad decisions. By 30 I was living on the streets and facing a count of murder. As a result of being convicted, I received a 14-year sentence, with a non-parole period of 10 years.
It wasn’t until I was getting ready to be released on parole, that I fully understood what it was going to take to change the direction of my life narrative. I had to let down those barriers, and trust people if I were to successfully re-integrate back into society. So, two years my into four-year parole period, that’s exactly what I did. I tried something different, I gave a little trust to my case worker, and asked for help. Taking her on her word, I ended up signing parole application papers and this was when doors started opening.
In order to get parole in Victoria, one needs secure accommodation and my case worker said I fit the criteria for ACSO’s McCormack Housing program. An application was put in, and I was accepted. After a few meetings, I could tell that these people were there to help, something that I had never experienced before. But it wasn’t until I was released on parole that I would learn how truly serious these people were about helping prisoners break the cycle of recidivism. I also met the criteria for ACSO’s ReConnect program and was granted funding.
During the first six months, Bree (my ReConnect worker) and I worked on a number of crucial goal objectives, such as obtaining the DSP, which meant I now had an income, applying for NDIS funding, and stable accommodation. These are some of the most important things that anyone needs to live a self-fulfilling life.
I recently joined LEAP because I can make a difference and make it easier for younger people coming through. I don’t want our children going down the same path as I did. I never had this kind of help myself until I found ACSO. If we can open more help in this area, there’s a good chance we can catch younger people before they go too far into the justice system.
Employment Engagement Survey
Diversity and Inclusion at ACSO
13 Employees are engaged as Inclusive Practice Champions
ACSO Board – 8 out of 13 members are female
ACSO Exec – 3 female, 3 male
I have worked at ACSO for a number of years and am so grateful for all the support ACSO has provided as an organisation during the pandemic.
It has been a stressful time of change, uncertainty filled with many unknowns but all that has been made easier by the ACSO Pandemic Support Package. I have appreciated the flexibility around working hours, working from home, meeting safely with the team and program participants in the community when restriction levels allowed.
I have utilised the additional COVID-19 leave, the $500 training funding, contacted the EAP for support and tuned in to ACSO TV during the first and second waves. ACSO TV was a way to feel connected to the wider organisation and also to remain informed on what is happening within the various states and programs in relation to the pandemic. It was such a lovely surprise to receive a care package from Cath.
Hi, my name is Henry Vueyaunzi and I work for ACSO’s CREST program in Queensland. I have been working for ACSO for three years.
I started as a post-release case worker and moved to an in-prison case worker role. Currently I am at Brisbane Correctional Centre. For some people, scholarships provide an opportunity to earn an education. For me it was for career development, as I have a degree in public health. I have always had an interest in the community sector, however, and hope to use my knowledge and skills to help improve people’s lives.
When I received my ACSO scholarship, I put the money towards my Diploma of Community Services, which I had been unable to finish because of financial hardship. I lost my daughter in 2019 and my brother in Africa in early 2020, which became a turning point for me until this miracle happened.
It was important for me to study community services because of my current role as a case worker at ACSO. My job requires case management, where I’m involved in case coordinating with external service providers and delivering person-centred services to individuals. I work autonomously under broad directions from management within ACSO and Brisbane Correctional Centre supervisors. I also look forward to future opportunities in the ACSO family.
No words could express how happy I was when I was informed in the middle of a meeting that I had won $1,000 towards my study. My team leader, Cassandra, recommended I apply for the scholarship, and this motivated me. When you have a boss who supports your career growth, you are at the right organisation.
ACSO was pleased to introduce its Internal Mentoring Program in February 2021. The program has created a framework for structured internal mentoring to foster professional growth and development among ACSO employees to advance career opportunities and development, support internal succession planning and aid employee retention. The Internal Mentoring Program is the first time ACSO has invested in establishing an organisation-wide mentoring program, and is a strategic action based on employee feedback from the Employee Engagement Survey.
To establish the program, experienced employees were matched with those who would like to learn from a mentor to enhance their professional growth. Learnings have been aligned to a specific role/level/program as well as being behavioural/competency related.
The program cycle ended in October and outcomes have been valuable learnings/experience for both mentee and mentor and demonstrated practical progression – i.e. PDP alignment, undertaking acting up/secondment opportunities across ACSO, succession planning activities, progressing further learning (internal/external) and enhanced employee commitment to ACSO.
The Internal Mentoring Program will run for a second year in 2022!
I applied for the Mentee Program because I realised how much I wanted to stay with ACSO right from the start and I have always been interested in progressing myself further.
When I was first informed my mentor would be Rem, the CFO of ACSO, an accountant, I was very surprised! I wondered how an accountant could assist with an employee who wanted to progress into prisoner reintegration. I soon learnt it was an amazing match by P&C. Rem was able to share so much with me that I feel this has been a huge step forward for my career.
As part of ACSO’s 2020-2023 Strategic Plan, we have committed to ensure our practice is inclusive, culturally appropriate, and responsive to people from diverse backgrounds. In 2020, ACSO invested in the development and implementation of a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy.
Diversity and Inclusion Lead
Diversity and inclusion is important to ACSO. In our ACSO employee engagement survey in June 2020, our employees rated ACSO as 87% diverse and 82% inclusive. We are also proud members of the Diversity Council Australia.
ACSO has begun to build foundations for a more culturally responsive organisation, with a focus on engaging and partnering with diverse communities, building our workforce’s cultural competencies, and strengthening our systems and accountability structures.
While the global pandemic has changed the way we work in many ways, ACSO has remained steadfast in its commitment to equity and inclusion, achieving notable accomplishments in challenging times, and at the end of the 2021 financial year we are proud to have achieved the following:
What Inclusion Means to Me
ACSO was the first organisation where I felt comfortable being my authentic self. Although I already felt welcomed and accepted within ACSO, the implementation of Access and Equity Leave for our LGBTQIA+ and our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees gave me the confidence to come out to my colleagues.
I knew that I was not alone, and that there were programs in place to support me and my colleagues. While this is but one step on the journey of inclusion, I know that ACSO is always looking for the next one, and I’m proud to be a part of that journey with the Inclusive Champions workgroup.
Whilst the initial program of work to implement OSCA is nearing completion, enhancements and innovations will continue to improve our client case management and support our staff in the work that they do.
Inspired by ACSO founder Stan McCormack, McCormack Housing was established in 2016, specifically to enhance and grow access to social and supported housing for ACSO clients exiting prison into homelessness.
Operations Manager, McCormack Housing
Traditionally, this cohort experiences high levels of exclusion from public and private housing markets and have no housing history to support their applications. Although it is well researched and recognised that there is a link between housing insecurity and recidivism, the number of people exiting prison into homelessness remains high in Victoria.
With the support of ACSO’s post-release programs, McCormack Housing provides a wraparound service model including behavioural and reintegration support programs.
Each housing program within McCormack Housing offers between six to 12 months of accommodation. During this time, tenancy officers work closely with participants, identifying needs and creating tailored housing plans to exit tenants into safe, affordable, and accessible housing. McCormack Housing officers also provide support beyond housing goals, including forensic case management for individualised care that allows tenants to thrive, achieve life skills and gain independence.
This wraparound service model includes working collaboratively with key stakeholders such as ACSO post-release programs, Corrections Victoria and NDIS providers to establish an individualised care team for each participant.
When the client exits McCormack Housing, tenancy officers offer an additional six months after-care support to ensure clients have made a successful transition to long-term housing.
has changed the lives of
McCormack Housing has changed the lives of 92 participants who have successfully transitioned into safe, long-term accommodation since 2018.
In 2020-2021, the supported housing model saw 64 referrals made, with 25 participants exiting into long-term accommodation.
participants exited into
long term accommodation
Original sketch by Stan McCormack
Alan joined the McCormack Housing program in September 2020 after having been in and out of prison over the past 30 years.
[McCormack Housing] a million per cent helped with drug and alcohol use. I would have fallen back into the same hole if I didn’t have this opportunity. I have reconnected with most of my family, and I am working on getting the trust back from others. McCormack Housing was heaps better than expected and I cannot fault the place, everything I needed was there.
I would recommend the program to others for sure. McCormack Housing has made me more confident and now I feel like I can stand on my own two feet. I have been in and out of jail for 30 years and I know I will never go back. This is the first time I have ever accepted support. I cannot thank you enough.
Costas joined the McCormack Housing Program after spending four years in prison.
I am a 48-year-old father of three children.
I was released from prison close to two months ago [after four years]. I feel like I am the luckiest man alive as McCormack Housing has put me up in a nice, cosy unit. I have found my peace and quiet and can make my own decisions.
Being on parole is scary no matter what but thank God for McCormack Housing — my saviours — who have placed me in a quiet, beautiful, warm place and have given me hope for my future. For now, I will keep going with my psychologist, my doctor and my alcohol and drug worker who I speak to on a weekly basis.
I am in a great place because of McCormack Housing, and I thank you so much for providing me with exactly what I needed; a safe place to live.