Therapeutic Community Rehabilitation

Siobhan Blake, Law student at Chambers Legal, recently completed a placement at Wandoo Rehabilitation Prison as part of her University Law Degree. She has prepared the below paper from her time at Wandoo.
The Change we Need in the Australian Prison System: Therapeutic Community Rehabilitation

The Honourable Chief Justice Susan Kiefel presented a lecture on Ethics and the Profession of the Lawyer to the Queensland Law Society in 2010, stating:

‘All lawyers must have a strong moral and ethical sense to be right-thinking. An ethical lawyer is not just one who has an awareness of a Code of Conduct and what may constitute a breach of that Code. A guide to right conduct is provided by an understanding of the place of the profession in the legal system and therefore in society; an understanding not only of the duty to a client but to the court and to the public interest in the maintenance of a working legal system.’

Kiefel here, has highlighted the importance that must be placed on the strong moral compass of legal professionals. Ethical behaviour can not merely be reduced to the binding pages of the Code of Conduct under which we practice. As those working in the legal field, it is our duty to ensure that we can empathise with and ensure that those most vulnerable in our society have the best access to the law. As well as this, making changes where possible to reduce the way in which the law disproportionately effects marginalised groups. 

The University of Notre Dame requires all law students participating in the Ethics and the Law unit to complete a minimum 20 hours of service learning with an organisation that focuses on the welfare, advocacy and empowerment of the individuals they represent. The service-learning component of this unit allows us, as future lawyers, to consider how we can make a difference in our professional field along with gaining real world experience of how everyday people may be impacted by the law. 

Though interning at Chambers Legal, I have developed a strong interest in Criminal Law. One could say that criminal defence really is the pinnacle of legal ethics. If individuals did not have adequate access to legal representation, the economic disparity between the State and Accused would be even greater than what it already is, especially for marginalised Australians. We have Dietrich v The Queen to thank for affording individuals adequate legal representation in the right to a fair trial. 

Furthermore, as a regional student I understand that living in a remote area has a direct impact on an individual’s access to the law. In addition to this, regional areas are experiencing an increasing rise in crime related to illicit drugs.

It is for these reason that in choosing my placement I wanted to work within an organisation that directly represented the struggles that marginalised people face in the justice system: namely regional women, Aboriginal Australians and youth. 

Statistically Speaking – Drug Use in Australia

There is surmounting evidence that suggests a direct correlation between drug use and criminal offending. Of the 2,319 detainees in watch houses and police stations across Australia who participated in the Australian Institute of Criminology’s 2017 Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program, 75% of those who were eligible to participate in urinalysis tested positive to at least one type of illicit drug. Those tested had an average of three criminal charges against their name. 37% of these individuals had a violent crime as their lead offence with 22 and 20% respectively being property and breach offences. This goes to show the major issue within the Australian justice system regarding drug use. 

Being ‘Tough on Drugs’ is Setting Australia Behind

Drug policy around the world is continuously changing, moving away from the discourse of the bureaucratically deemed ‘war’ on drugs and towards holistic rehabilitation. Specifically, therapeutic community programs have been rolled out in around 30% of prisons in the United States. Therapeutic communities have been designed to explore the life experiences that help individuals learn about themselves: developing self-respect; gaining self-esteem; learning about others; and fostering mutuality and respect for each other. In so doing, concepts of responsibility, authority and meaningful codes of behaviour are established. A study of 1,193 federal prisoners in the US drew results that indicated prisoners in therapeutic communities had lower rates of drug relapse and recidivism than two untreated groups. There have been multiple studies in the United States that further reflects this, with the widespread use of the therapeutic community model being directly associated with these outcomes.

In Australia, 44% of individuals released from the prison system will be reincarcerated in the two years following their release. With the use of drugs among those entering prison reaching 65% in 2018, the question must be raised – why are we not actively working to reduce these statistics? If the governments proposition in becoming ‘tough on drugs’ isn’t working, shouldn’t we be looking to different approaches?

Ethically speaking, Australia’s increasing drug use and criminal offences have a strong correlating relationship. Is it then not our responsibility to aid those encapsulated in the prison system to break the cycle of addiction thus reducing the likelihood of reoffending upon reintegration into the community? In treating addictions as a mental health issue through rehabilitation upon prison entry, we are more likely to see a reduction in recidivism, intergenerational criminality and domestic violence, thus reducing the overall pressure on the criminal justice system. 

Wandoo Therapeutic Community Rehabilitation Prison

Upon being exposed to these statistics, I approached Cyrenian House who facilitate the rehabilitation program at Wandoo Prison. Wandoo is Australia’s first dedicated female, alcohol and other drug rehabilitation prison based upon the Therapeutic Community model. Wandoo has the capacity for 77 residents who, to be accepted into the Therapeutic Community Program: must have drug addiction associated with their offences; a minimum of six months left to serve on their sentence; and have actively presented motivation to rehabilitate.

The model of rehabilitation focuses on the democratic involvement of the residents within the facility to support each other in their recovery. Residents are expected to show ‘responsible concern’ for their program peers, growing in their own recovery by assisting in the recovery processes of others. I was lucky enough to be able to observe many of the sessions that took place with the residents. 

Residents progress through stages within the program, having increased responsibilities gaining privileges and status as they move upwards. Progressing to a new stage recognises increased personal awareness and growth demonstrated through behaviour, attitudes and values. The most important aspect of this, I believe, is the significance placed on peer-leadership. Residents within higher stages act role models to newer residents entering the Therapeutic Community. The staff’s role is primarily to be community managers facilitating the interactions within the community, supporting the residents and aiding in maintaining the social order of the Therapeutic Community.

Through taking responsibility for their own actions, accepting and growing from experiences and supporting each other in their journey through rehabilitation, residents are able to aim to break the cycle of criminality associated with drug use.


My time at Wandoo made me realise my passion for social justice. In my future as a lawyer, I want to strive to conduct myself in an ethical way beyond the rules of the Code of Conduct. It is so vitally important for us, as young legal professionals to question the system and push for the best for our clients, the court and society as a whole.

A second treatment prison based on the same model is expected to be open in late 2019 – showing what a difference can be made through the Therapeutic Community.

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