It was a vision and dream come true to visit Sweden to meet with KRIS in Stockholm. KRIS was established several years ago by former criminals and drug addicts to help people in prison returning to society turn their lives around from one of addiction and criminality as they had done.
KRIS had been an inspiration for my Churchill Fellowship Project. I had become aware that current rehabilitation and reintegration models were not being successful in reducing the risk of further victims in the community or reducing the costs of the criminal justice system to the taxpayer. I also had the catalsyt lived experience of a former partner’s return to prison tell me that he ‘did not know how to be straight’, to live a ‘normal life’, no matter how many mandated prison programs he repeated. KRIS appeared to be the missing link we needed in Australia and my thoughts were affirmed and inspired.
I met with Christer Karlsson, one of the founders of KRIS and now Chairman of KRIS globally and Ali Reunanen, the Chairman of KRIS in Stockholm. I had the most wonderful, inspirational discussion with Christer and Ali and felt privileged to meet with them. Both Christer and Ali have many years of past prison experience and drug addiction and have become experts by experience and become highly respected professionals in their field. I also had a priceless opportunity to sit in with the morning group meeting where KRIS clients share thoughts and feelings on how their previous day went and what they learned about themselves. The services by KRIS both in prison and the community are extensive. KRIS is now based across Sweden and in Finland, Denmark, Ukraine, Belarus and Japan.
I then had the very valuable opportunity of visiting X-CONS, an agency established by the other founder of KRIS, Peter Soderlund. I spent several hours at X-CONS too and spoke with two peer mentors, one a woman who shared with me her past experiences and how she came to be involved with the criminal justice system and now X-CONS. It was a very insightful and moving discussion and again reminded me of the very different, complex and challenging issues and experiences for women involved in addiction and criminality. I also learnt about the range of services provided by X-CONS mentors and observed many people visiting X-CONS while I was there, to either ‘drop-in’ for a coffee to access the services there, such as education, training and job search on computers.
I then sat down and had a lengthy thought provoking and very interesting discussion with Peter Soderlund, about what is needed in society to bring about real social justice and prison reform at the grassroots and person centred level. X-CONS is also based in Canada and Norway.
A key point on the value of agencies like X-CONS and KRIS is that a person may stop taking drugs, but they also need to stop being a criminal and that means to stop being who they are, in essence, ending the life they have known. This can only come from transformation within oneself and it is through the hope and inspiration of seeing former criminals and drug addicts become leaders of agencies, that provide person centred not service driven support, employing other former offenders and influencing and driving reform. This is where and how real change can happen.
My Churchill Fellowship has been everything I had envisaged and more. It is so exciting to know I have so much valuable information to bring home to Australia and share with other interested countries.
Next week, my final week is the USA, in New York City. Stay tuned.