Queensland Corrective Services

Up skilling sentence management and offender development staff

The skills I learnt will be useful during assessments for programs, mental health assessments and, when discussing substance abuse and encouraging program participation.

Queensland Corrections staff member

The Background

Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) is committed to the community safety and crime prevention through the humane containment, supervision and rehabilitation of offenders.  The Department employs over 10,600 full time equivalent staff and is supported by approximately 41,500 dedicated volunteers across the state.

As part of this effort QCS offers prisoners a range of programs, activities and treatment services that aim to lower the risk of further offending and meet the needs of offenders. Education and vocational programs provide offenders in custody with valuable skills and training to improve their literacy and educational levels, and to improve their employment opportunities. The programs also play an integral part in the management and rehabilitation of prisoners.

In addition QCS also offers a range of programs and interventions to assist prisoners to confront their criminal behaviour, and develop pro-social skills and techniques to control their behaviour and avoid situations that may lead to further offending. These programs target specific behaviour relating to substance abuse, violence and sexual offences.

The Sentence Administration Unit, within Sentence Management Services, is responsible for the lawful detainment and release of prisoners. Sentence calculation is a core agency business that involves interpreting and complying with the orders of the court, accurately calculating sentences in accordance with those court orders and orders of imprisonment in default of fines, and recording this in the Integrated Offender Management System (IOMS).


The Challenge

Correctional settings are complex and fast paced environments. In essence there was a lot happening that is often time critical. It is therefore important for an organisation the size and breadth of Queensland Corrective Services to have staff skilled and able to respond in a timely and professional manner. Taking people off line and providing in-room training, particularly when travel to a central site is involved, is a significant cost and at times inconvenience to day-to-day operations. Also having a pathway for new staff who start at different times to learn of the complexity of working in a prison system is as much about staff safety as job competency. For example maintaining clear boundaries within a prison environment are critical for both staff and prisoner safety so one part of a module is on maintaining professional boundaries in the workplace. Another example is around the importance of assessing safety of prisoners in terms of risk of self-harm, risk of harm from others, risk of harm to others, and risk of escape. These assessments are critical in a system where safe and secure containment is a key output.


The Solution

HMA was tasked to develop a series of the learning modules that staff could undertake while in the workplace. They were designed to cover key information and processes in order to increase competence and confidence.

To give an example of the content within the Refresher training for QCS Existing Staff (Offender Development & Sentence Management) module

Our early experience of hosting online modules on our Totara learning management system is that many people start but then do not complete. It is our belief that learning is contextual and that for learning to be effective we require workplace champions who are prepared to encourage, support and mentor learners as they make sense of material. To give this project the best chance of success we also trained (and continue to) more experienced staff in the skills of workplace mentoring. At the end of each section in an online module learners have the opportunity to meet with their mentor and discuss the content, report on activities undertaken as part of the learning, clarify issues, and discuss the implications for practice. In many ways this means that e-learners are less likely to e-scape.


The Return on Expectation

We have designed and hosted nine online modules for QLD DCS and today’s have had 703 participants complete the modules with a further 208 current users. Numbers however only tell part of the story.

This project was always about multiple levels of engagement. Firstly it was about changing the way that many staff access learning and development. This was a significant culture change for this particular part of the workforce who were more used to coaching by seniors and in-room delivery of learning and development.

Secondly it was about developing more senior staff to be able to provide mentoring by up-skilling them in how to support learners. It was very clear early on from tracking the project that where mentors were engaged with their mentees, that successful outcomes were achieved from the project.

Thirdly this was a cost effective manner to deliver foundational training in a timely manner to new staff entering the organisation. With the compression ratio of e-learning (50% on in-room), reducing the cost of travel, and being able to deliver in a timely manner, this has created significant savings in the learning and development budget.

Take a look at what else people had to say:

I now better understand the work that others do, and will know when to consult with, or refer matters to others. In addition I now feel that I am better protected against being manipulated by prisoners.

Participant

Learning about the pathways that prisoners can take through the system was great and has meant that I will now be able to speak more knowledgeably to them when discussing their future options.

Participant