“Music can change the world because it can change people,” U2’s Bono once said. The quote could very well have been from Daniel Conlon, Federation Representative at Long Bay Correctional Centre, who is a music lover and uses it to help teach adult inmates literacy at the facility.
Mr Conlon, who has been a Fed Rep for 12 years and strongly believes in the value of education for the rehabilitation of prisoners, often has his guitar in the classroom. “It gets the students interested, particularly those interested in music,” he said. “As an incentive, I ask them to put a song together, new or old, and as it evolves we type it out in draft form with the goal of having something presentable by the end.
“Inmates get pride in the finished product and to see and learn the processes involved; turning the abstract, their talent, into something more concrete.”
Music is not just a teaching tool but a powerful force in Mr Conlon’s life. “Who was it that said: ‘Music is my religion’?” he said. (It was Jimi Hendrix!) “Well it occupies a lot of my time, too much probably, but either way that’s what floats my boat.”
Mr Conlon and his fellow teachers at correctional facilities have literally been in the firing line over the past year, with a large number made redundant by the NSW Government’s decision to privatise gaol education — a busy time for a Fed Rep. “The members put up a solid fight against this privatisation but in the end many were made redundant,” he said. “In my view, the long-term impact of this will be that inmates will not receive quality education. Then the impact on the community is that these same inmates will return to the communities from which they came with fewer opportunities to gain employment. Education provision is a proven method to reduce recidivism, the evidence is there for all to read.”
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures reveal just 14 per cent of prisoners in Australian correctional facilities have completed Year 12, compared with 63 per cent of the general population.
In Norway, where prisoners have internet access for education in their cells, recidivism rates are as low as 20 per cent compared with 43 per cent in NSW, while educational programs in New Zealand prisons are helping bring recidivism down to around 11 per cent.
For Mr Conlon, the key issue in his workplace revolves around these figures and their consequences. “There is really only one issue, and that is the provision of education to people who, for whatever reason, have not had the benefit of an education,” he said.
“Ultimately I, like my colleagues, do not want to see people return to prison and one of the most successful ways to achieve this is to educate inmates so that they can determine and choose the ways in which they can reintegrate into society and equally contribute to that society in a positive way.”
He has seen the numbers drop in his Federation Committee since the redundancies but they are reconstituting the structure and have a full committee including Women’s Rep, Environmental Rep as well as sub-committee members.
As the Fed Rep, he is pleased the collective ethos has been maintained in the workplace. “It is important that people in a group realise that they are there for each other,” he said. “This motivates most people to give that little bit extra.”