This is a guide for people who have been released from prison. Just click on the question to see answers, information, people to call and websites to visit for help.
Day-to-day challenges can put a lot of stress on someone who’s just been released. Things like finding a place to live, talking to Centrelink or getting in touch with family and friends sometimes have to be done quickly and may not be easy to do.
Although you may have heard that many people released from custody end up back in prison sooner or later, there are many others who succeed in making a new start. The first few weeks and months are critical.
This information is here to help you through this time.
How to use this information
Accessing the internet
You’ll find internet sites and phone numbers for a number of organisations. If you don’t have regular access to the internet, you can get free access at most public libraries. In country areas there may be community technology centres, which give cheap internet access to people on Centrelink payments.
All information was current at the time of writing (November 2016), but things change over time. If there’s a difference between this information and what you were told in your release preparation sessions, trust the information provided in the pre-release program.
You may think that if you can handle prison you can handle anything, but many people on release have said that the first few weeks outside were actually harder than the time they spent inside. Coping with money problems, dealing with other people, and feeling like you don’t fit in can be overwhelming. You may feel depressed and anxious and not want to leave your room. If the stress feels like it’s getting too much or is stopping you getting things done, it’s time to seek support.
Who can help?
On this website is a list of key agencies that provide free help.
Telling services that you’ve been in prison can help them understand better what you’re going through. But it’s up to you to decide how much you feel you want to say and what you are comfortable with.
FAMILY & CHILDREN
> Are you returning to your family?
- It’s normal to feel anxious about living together again
- Talk about your hopes and plans before release
- Keeping talking once you go home
- Listen to them
- Get help early if you’re having relationship problems.
> What do you expect of your partner after you’re released?
Picking up where you left off in a relationship may be more difficult than you expect. You and your partner will have adjusted to living apart. It’s understandable that you both may feel anxious about living together again.
You may not be sure how you’ll get started with even everyday things like having sex and working out money.
The key is to talk to your partner about your ideas and hopes before you get out, and keep talking after your release. It’s easy to get carried away inside prison with ideas about what it will be like when you get back together. If your partner tells you you’re being unrealistic or getting carried away, listen. He or she is probably more in touch about this than you are.
> What if you had relationship problems before you went to prison?
Any problems in your relationship before you went to prison will probably still be there when you get out. If, for example, your relationship was violent or there were lots of arguments, you may find these patterns return after your release, even though you may have hoped they’d be different. If things aren’t working out, it’s important to seek help.
> Did you start your relationship while in prison?
A relationship that starts in prison can be very intense, because you often have a lot of time to focus on it, and few distractions. Even if you know each other really well, there’ll still be more to learn when you’re able to spend more time with each other. You may find it hard if you learn things about each other that you weren’t expecting.
You may feel prison has changed you, or you may be confused by your feelings and behaviour.
Being withdrawn or having mood swings and angry outbursts are common. It’s all part of the difficult process of readjusting from prison life to family life. Suddenly you’re faced with a whole new set of demands. What helps people survive in gaol may be unhelpful back home. In gaol, violence and intimidation are often used to ‘solve’ conflict. At home, those tactics could destroy your relationship with your family and even land you back inside. The skills of listening and open communication are essential to a good relationship.
If you do find yourself having problems, relationship or family counselling can help sort things out. Don’t wait until the relationship is on the rocks or your family is falling apart to seek help. It’s better to see someone early, when things are easier to sort out.
> Are you returning to your children?
- Be prepared for the children to take a while to get used to you being back at home
- Try to be patient and understanding – they aren’t old enough to understand how you feel
- Remember children are often messy and noisy – this is normal, although it may take time for you to get used to it
- You may need to rebuild trust with your children and the people who’ve been caring for them
- Get help early if you’re finding it difficult to cope with your children.
> Will your children be living with you all or some of the time after your release?
Children can react in lots of different ways when a parent comes home from prison. They may be extremely happy, but they may also be upset and confused because you were away for so long. Any changes can be unsettling for children. Younger children may not remember a time when you were at home with them. Older children may have taken on family responsibilities, and for a time may resent the changes that come when their mother or father returns home.
Remember that they need to hear from you that you do love them. Try not to be too hurt if they give you a hard time. They won’t understand that you didn’t mean to go to gaol, and they may feel that you’ve let them down. Listen and try to understand how your children feel rather than being defensive. They’ll settle down if you can be patient and are prepared to work to regain their trust.
Perhaps some other family member took on the parenting role while you were in prison. You may need to regain their trust, as well as your children’s, as you and the person who has been looking after your children work out exactly what roles each of you’ll play in your children’s lives. If your child was placed in their care through a court order, you may benefit from legal advice to find out what steps would be involved in resuming their care.
Be prepared for the noise and mess that children make.
In prison, the one thing you have control over is your cell. If you always kept your cell spotless, you may find it difficult to cope with children who leave toys around and yell and scream. It can help to remember that this is normal behaviour for children. You can teach them to tidy up after themselves, but you can’t stop them behaving like children. Insisting on having complete control over your environment will only create more stress for you and them.
> Will you be a single parent after you’re released?
It can be hard enough to look after yourself in the early days post-release, let alone a demanding child. Some children may become particularly ‘clingy’ when their parent returns home from prison. This may be due to their fear of being separated again. It’s important to get support if you feel you or your children aren’t coping. Don’t wait until things build up to the point where you lash out at the children, take drugs or do something else that might hurt you or your children.
> Are you returning to live with your parents?
- Parents may keep checking up on you because they’re worried that you may use drugs or reoffend
- It can help to remember they’re checking because they care about you
- Let them know how you feel, and what’s helpful for you
- If you and your parents can’t agree about expectations, you may find it better to move into other accommodation.
- Programs in gaol may help you work on parenting and communication skills.
Living with parents after your release can have practical, emotional and financial advantages but it can also be stressful. Parents of people on release from prison often worry that their son or daughter is going to reoffend or use drugs again. They often try to control them or monitor their behaviour in various ways. If your parents do this, remember it’s because they care about you. However, feeling that you’re being watched over, or that your parents don’t trust you, can be hard. You can even feel tempted to do something rash just to break out. Remember that the decision not to reoffend or use drugs is about what you want for your life. You’re not doing it to please them.
Tell your parents what’s helpful and not helpful for you in terms of support. It may be useful for them to hear from you how what they do affects you. Remember that while you live in your parents’ house it’s reasonable for them to expect you to live by their rules. If you can’t do this, then you’ll need to look for your own place.
> Can the CRC help me?
CRC can provide counselling for families of prisoners and people on release from prison.
Prisoners often really look forward to returning to their family. But many people say that after the ‘honeymoon period’ is over things may not go smoothly. CRC knows how difficult it can be to come from prison back into the family and can provide support. Contact details for us and other family counselling services.
Before your release you may be able to arrange a family conference where you can talk through issues about living together. The Restorative Justice Unit in Corrective Services can help set up and run a family conference for you and your family. Talk to your welfare officer if you think this would be helpful. Chaplains can also provide support if you’re worried about returning to your family. Ask for an appointment with the chaplain to talk about your concerns. CRC offers support to the families of prisoners and people on release from prison. If anyone in your family is having trouble coping, call CRC’s Family Worker on (02) 9288 8700.
> Who else can help me?
NSW Family Referral Services can refer you to organisations whose support workers can help with parenting and other family matters through home visiting, counselling and educational and social groups.
Family and Community Services (FACS) Helpline – contact FACS if you want to report a child at risk or request assistance. Call the Child Protection Helpline on 132 111 (24 hours/7 days). Also contact if your child is in FACS care and you’re not sure who to talk to about them.
Parentline is a telephone advice and referral helpline for parents of children under 18 years of age. You can ring 9am– 4.30pm for telephone counselling and advice if you’re feeling stuck, and can refer you to services, such as parenting courses in your area. Or call 1300 1300 52.
> Do you need help with domestic violence and sexual assault?
Domestic violence isn’t just physical violence. It may also include verbal abuse, making threats, forcing a partner to have sex or controlling a partner’s access to money, or stopping their contact with friends or family. Living in a relationship where there’s domestic violence can be dangerous physically and emotionally for you and your children. Find out more about help with domestic violence at www.domesticviolence.nsw.gov.au.
The Domestic Violence Line provides 24-hour advice about safety, AVOs, child protection, etc. Run by FACS, Call 1800 656 463.
The Rape Crisis Centre provides counselling and support for people affected by sexual assault. Visit www.nswrapecrisis.com.au or call 1800 424 017 (24/7) or 1800RESPECT 1800 737 732 (24/7).
Kids Helpline is a 24-hour helpline for young people under the age of 25. Ph: 1800 551 800 or visit www.kidshelpline.com.au.
Lifeline is a free 24-hour counselling service. Ph: 131 114 or visit www.lifeline.org.au.
Mensline offer family and relationship counselling for men. Ph: 1300 78 99 78 or visit www.mensline.org.au.
Relationships Australia provide relationship counselling by appointment to couples, individuals and families. They have centres at various locations. Call 1300 364 277 or visit www.relationshipsnsw.org.au.
> Do you need help with separation, custody and child support issues?
The Child Support Agency helps separated parents manage their child support responsibilities by working actively with parents to help them make the best arrangement for them and their children. Ph: 13 12 72 or visit www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/dhs/child-support.
The Family Court of Australia provides mediation, dispute resolution and counselling for couples going through separation. Assists separating couples to reach agreement on custody, child support and other arrangements without going through the courts. Can also make orders for children to live with other family members where DoCS isn’t involved. Ph: (02) 9217 7111.
LawAccess provides legal information and referral to Legal Aid. Ph: 1300 888 529 or visit www.lawaccess.nsw.gov.au.
Link Up assists Aboriginal men and women from the Stolen Generation in re-establishing contact with their families. Visit www.linkupnsw.org.au or call (02) 9421 4700 or 1800 624 332 (Free call, not available to mobiles)
> Are you feeling isolated or lonely?
Quick Guide to Overcoming Isolation and Loneliness
Feeling isolated and lonely is very common after you’ve left prison. In prison you didn’t expect to open up to people and enjoy their company. Now you’re outside it takes time to relax and be friendly to people.
Small talk doesn’t happen much in prison, and once you leave it takes time to learn what to talk about, and how to chat. Having someone who can support you during the first months when you leave prison can really help. If you don’t have family or a friend who can do this, look for a support service that may be able to help.
If your aim is to go straight, you may not want to hang around your old mates, but you may feel like you don’t have anyone else. If you’ve got a mate who’s also wanting to go straight, you can support each other. If you need someone to talk to right now, ring Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24-hour confidential telephone counselling.
Lots of people on release from prison feel isolated and lonely once they leave prison, especially if they aren’t living with family. Some people have ended up reoffending just to return to prison where they know people and don’t feel out of place. Meeting people and making friends is hard for most people, and it’s even more difficult when you’ve been in prison.
Your ‘prison self’
In prison you may have acted tough, hiding your feelings so that no one thought you were an easy target. Being like that protected you and helped keep you safe. But outside prison, behaving that way isn’t necessary and may scare people off.
What you need to ‘make it’ in the community is the very opposite of what cuts it inside. Being open and friendly is more likely to get you what you want than behaving as you would in prison.
To get to know people and make some friends you’ll have to slowly take a few risks and open up to people.
Talking about the weather, the football or what you did on the weekend doesn’t happen in prison much. In fact, what passes for normal conversation in the general community can seem trivial and annoying when you’ve spent time in prison, where survival was the main concern. Learning what people in the community talk about takes time, and feels strange.
It will take time to get used to the different social rules that operate outside prison. Listen to other people. How do they start a conversation? What gets talked about? You’ll soon get the hang of it. Don’t forget that most people, ‘straight’ people included, feel shy or don’t know what to say from time to time.
Choose a support person
While you’re in custody, you can choose to have a meeting with a person who’ll be your key support when you get out. They could be a family member, trusted friend, or community member. Talk to people supporting you about your expectations for life on the outside, and follow this up with them when you get out. Having someone to call when things get difficult can be a real help. Don’t forget that you can always call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Old mates and new mates
A lot of prisoners who want to go straight when they come out worry about seeing old associates from criminal or drug-using circles. They know if they hang around those people, there’s a strong chance that they’ll end up reoffending. On the other hand, if they don’t see any of their old associates, they’ll have nobody. At least with their old connections they feel comfortable and know the score. There are no easy answers to this one. Building up a new circle of friends is not easy, but it can be done. Here are a few tips:
- Make it clear to your mates that you don’t want to fall back into old ways, but don’t rely on them to make it easy for you. People who are still using or breaking the law are more likely to want to drag you back down than wish you well in your new life. That’s reality. After all, if you succeed, they might feel uncomfortable about their own lives.
- Be selective about who you keep in contact with. It’s not hard to tell who is good for you and who means trouble. Another person who’s also committed to staying out can be a great help. Build on your contacts with those prisoners who you believe are likely to stay out and who are serious about going straight.
- If you’re going to meet someone who still uses drugs, think about how and when you have contact. It might be better to see a person in a café rather than in their lounge room, where it’s all too easy to light up that bong or have that hit.
- Form a relationship with a support worker you can trust. Although workers are professional people who are paid to help you, a real bond of trust can develop.
- NA, AA and other 12-step programs have a ‘sponsoring’ system in which more experienced members of the program provide support and guidance to newer members. If you have drug or alcohol problems, attend a meeting and see if there’s someone there you like. They may be able to sponsor you. Contact AA on (02) 9799 1199 or NA on 1300 652 820 for a referral to your nearest meeting.
See www.succeedsocially.com/meetpeople for some good ideas about meeting new people
Finding something positive to do
If you have spent a long time involved with crime and other people who are offending, it can be hard to find other, more positive things to do after you have been released. Being involved in pro-social things like sports and hobbies can be a good distraction, help you to meet new people and get fit. See the NSW Sports and Recreation website for many different kinds of sporting organisations.
> Are you feeling anxious or depressed?
Quick Guide to Coping with Anxiety and Depression
It’s normal to feel anxious or depressed in the months following your release. You may:
- Have difficulty sleeping
- Eat more or less than usual
- Feel sick, or have difficulty breathing
- Feel agitated, restless or panicky
- Find you don’t have the energy to do things
- Feel negative, and that everything is too hard
- Feel fearful that people know that you’ve been in prison
- Find it hard to make decisions.
- have these kinds of feelings without a break for three weeks or more, or
- can’t do basic things like feed yourself or go to parole appointments because you feel so bad, or
- just want help so you cope better,
Talk to your doctor or a support service or contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or go to www.beyondblue.org.au.
Do you have ‘gate fever’?
It’s normal to feel anxiety or ‘gate fever’ as the date of your release approaches. This is more likely the longer you’ve been inside. As well as feeling excited about your release, you may also be feeling fearful that something will go wrong so that your release will be delayed, or that you won’t be able to make it once you’re released. You may notice physical signs of anxiety, like sleep problems or agitation.
Here are some tips about dealing with the emotional side of being released.
They don’t know where you’ve been
You may feel like everyone can tell you’ve been in prison and feel that everyone else has you marked out. But after a while you will realise that most people were too busy to pay much attention and gradually stop feeling so separate and different, and worried that people would find out.
It’s normal for people to look you in the eye
In prison you learn to look away so no one will get the wrong idea, and think you want to take them on. It may feel uncomfortable when you get out when people look you in the eye, until you realise that they do it with everyone, and it isn’t about you.
You can’t take everything personally
If something goes wrong, don’t assume it is because people had it in for you. Sometimes you have to tell yourself things like “they’re just rude to everyone” or “they’re just having a bad day” so you didn’t get caught up in stuff and take everything personally.
You forget how busy and noisy things are
Driving away from prison at 60 kph may feel like speeding, and even crossing the road can be a challenge so take things slowly, and be careful, until you get used to it all again.
You have to stop watching your back
You may have to unlearn lots of things you did in prison to make sure you were safe. When out in public, you may need to learn to relax, and not check everybody out to see where they are and what they are going to do.
Don’t push yourself too fast
Pace yourself and don’t try to do everything at once.
It helps to get out of the house
You may feel anxious around other people and not go out much. Try going out once a day, even just to go and get the paper, or go for a walk, and after a while it may get easier to go to more places and stay out for longer.
You have to learn to make decisions again
This may be anxiety provoking as inside, most of your decisions were made for you and you may have got out of practice. Let others help you and try not to worry too much about getting things right all the time. It can take a long time to get used to having so many choices and having to decide for yourself.
Getting help with anxiety and depression
If anxiety or depression are making it hard to get on with life, see a doctor. It may be helpful for you to take prescription medication for a period of time and/or to talk through your feelings with a doctor or a counsellor or health professional. Using drugs or alcohol may make you feel better for a brief time, but they don’t keep helping in the longer term.
Signs that you may be anxious include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling restless and agitated
- Feeling sick
- Losing your appetite
- Panic attacks (feeling sweaty, shortness of breath, heart racing).
Signs that you may be depressed include:
- Feeling continually sad and hopeless
- Not being able to enjoy anything in life (it all seems ‘grey’ or pointless)
- Having a lot of negative thoughts about life and yourself
- Lacking motivation to do anything, even to get out of bed
- Losing your appetite, or over-eating
- Being unable to sleep, or sleeping too much
- Thoughts of suicide.
You can expect to have some of these feelings as you adjust to life outside. However, if you find these feelings go on for more than a couple of months, or become so severe that you’re unable to function properly (feed yourself, meet parole commitments, etc), then seek help. Talk to your doctor or a worker you trust.
> Are you having trouble controlling your temper, and getting angry?
Quick Guide to Keeping Your Cool
After you leave prison you may have lots of reasons to lose your cool, especially in the first few months when plans might fall through, people don’t understand, or you have to wait for things you need now.
Keeping your cool can help you keep your freedom. If you can find ways to avoid getting aggro with others, it’s worth it. It may help to:
- Remind yourself about what could happen if you lose it
- Take time out
- Take ten deep breaths
- Stay away from people or places where you get agro
- Find ways to relax and stay calm
- Anger management courses can help you learn more ways to do this.
There’s plenty to be frustrated about when you come out of prison. Particularly in the first couple of months, you may find yourself under intense pressure. Things will go wrong, fall through, or take longer than expected. You may feel like you’re constantly hitting your head against a brick wall. If you ‘lose it’ and lash out at someone, whether it’s your partner, your kids, a worker, or someone at the pub who you think is looking at you the wrong way, the next stop may be the remand centre. Here are some tips from people who’ve found ways to keep their cool, even when times are tough.
Learn positive self-talk – you just get worked up if you let yourself think things like “they’ve got it coming to them”. Instead, say to yourself “I won’t let this get to me”, “I can handle this”, or just “chill”. Positive self-talk can help you to stay calm.
Think about the consequences
Think about what will happen if you lose your cool- there’s no way you want to lose your freedom. Then when you’ve walked away, give yourself a little pat on the back for keeping it together.
Sometimes you’ll just have to get away from the situation. Go for a walk until you feel calmer.
Take some deep breaths
If you take some deep, slow breaths, it can really calm you down. If you notice yourself getting worked up, because you start breathing faster, stop and take and ten slow, calm breaths.
Learn to read the warning signs, so you can get away from the situation, or if you can’t leave, try to slow things down. When you hear your voice getting louder, and start to feel hot and sweaty, you tense up so learn to stay in control, rather than letting your body take over.
Tell yourself that it takes a really strong person to be in control of your feelings and take charge of your life. If you let other people wind you up, you’re really just letting them run the show.
Be assertive, rather than aggressive. This means talking about what you want, without shouting at people or trying to scare them. You don’t have to use force to get your point across. It means you usually get better help from people because they listen to what you say, and don’t try to get you out the door as fast as they can.
Do things to help you relax
Working out can help you to feel better when you’re feeling aggro and if you do it every day, it can help you stay cool. Working out isn’t for everyone, but walking, or swimming, or yoga should work the same way.
Try to think ahead and avoid problems. If you’re already feeling worked up, try to stay away from people and places where you’ll start feeling worse. If you know that you have to go somewhere that might stress you, take some time to relax first so you’ll have a clear head and a good attitude.
HOUSING AND ACCOMMODATION
This section is not about immediate post-release accommodation, but about moving on from temporary accommodation towards more stable and long-term housing.
> Do you need to reconnect with NSW Housing after release?
This process can be done over the phone. If you prefer to use the old method of going into a FACS office and doing the paperwork there in hard copy, you can still do this.
The number to call is 1300 HOUSING (1300 468 746)
When you phone the 1300 number to lodge an application, the waiting time is usually less than 10 minutes. You can also leave your number for them to call you back instead, which is good if you are worried about the cost of the call. The wait for a call-back should not be much longer than 10 minutes.
The phone call should take about half an hour for a single person. If you have complex support needs and/or other family members, the call could take longer, up to an hour or so.
You need to have your Medicare card and Centrelink number with you when you call. If you don’t have a Medicare card, you could use your passport, drivers licence or birth certificate instead.
FACS need this identification so that they can do online checks regarding your identity and income and collect all the evidence they need such as bank and Centrelink statements.
During the phone-call, an assessment of your support needs will be done. If your support needs are low, your application will be added to the system within about 2 hours.
If you have high support needs, the application will go to a Local Client Service team for an assessment for the priority waiting list. Where an appointment for this assessment is necessary at a local FACS office, you will be given an appointment within a few days of the phone call.
If you have a case worker, you can give consent for your case worker to participate in the call by using speakerphone. If you want your caseworker to lodge an application for you in your absence, you will need to sign a General Disclosure Form and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Supporting evidence can also be emailed to that address.
FACS can organise and pay for any interpreter needed.
If you wish to apply for Aboriginal Housing, you will need to provide evidence of your Aboriginality, which is usually done through the Land Council of the area where you are originally from but can sometimes also be done by an Aboriginal case worker if they know you well. It can take a long time for Land Councils to provide confirmation, so in the meantime, you will be admitted to the general register list.
> Are you interested in Community Housing?
Community housing provides affordable rental housing to people on low to moderate incomes across New South Wales.
The majority of the housing provided is subsidised by government and is part of a broad social housing system that includes community housing, public housing and Aboriginal housing. It is ‘people centred’ and approaches housing issues locally. It has a strong emphasis on involving tenants in decisions about their housing.
It provides a range of housing – from housing that is affordable to moderate income working households, through to housing for people with very high needs (usually in partnership with a specialised support provider).
Increasingly community housing providers are working in partnership – with support providers, with local government, with public housing providers, and with private sector partners.
Different types of community housing organisations
Some community housing organisations are very small – focusing just on their local community. But the majority of community housing tenancies are managed by much larger organisations with the largest housing association managing over 4,000 houses.
There are 3 main types of community housing: housing associations, co-operatives and church owned housing.
Housing associations manage the vast majority of community housing tenancies.
- Housing associations are specific professional not-for-profit housing providers. While they mainly manage rental housing, they may provide other services as well.
- Co-operative housing is subsidised by government, but is fully managed by the tenants themselves, providing real control and ‘ownership’ of their housing.
- Church-based agencies have responded to need in their local communities and bring church resources to the table. In partnership with government they have played an important role in providing local solutions.
> How to apply for community housing?
You can apply for social housing assistance from any participating social housing provider by using the Application for Housing Assistance and Social Housing Supplement along with various supplement forms depending on your circumstances. All of these can be downloaded from the Housing Pathways website.
Applications for housing assistance can be lodged in person, by mail or over the phone (After Hours Temporary Accommodation and Rentstart only). You can submit this application form and all the required support documentation to any social housing provider.
If you are approved to go on the Housing Register, your application details will be available to all social housing providers, and you may be made an offer by any organisation that has a suitable property in the allocation zone that you have chosen.
> Do you want to rent privately?
- Private rental can be very expensive and in short supply, especially in inner Sydney. You may need to look in the outer suburbs to find lower rents.
- The Newtown Neighbourhood Centre has weekly lists of low-cost rental properties available: www.newtowncentre.org
- You may need to consider share houses as this can be a lot cheaper than trying to rent a place on your own. This will be easier if you are not on parole or have finished your parole. If you are on parole, your Community Corrections officer will need to speak to the other people who live in the house to check if it is suitable – and this would mean them knowing that you have been in prison.
> Are you interested in studying at TAFE?
If you’ve done some study in prison (e.g. with AEVTI or TAFE) you can get recognition for what you’ve done, and keep working towards a qualification with TAFE or another training provider.
TAFE staff such as the vocational counsellors, Outreach Coordinators or Aboriginal Coordinators can help you get recognition for your prison studies and help you choose a course and find out how to enrol.
You can get income support from Centrelink while you study.
If you’re on a Centrelink pension or benefit you can enrol in a TAFE course for free. For fee paying courses people on Centrelink benefits receive a concession fee, people with a disability and Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are fee exempt.
Most TAFE Outreach courses are free, and reading and writing courses are available for adult learners.
Contact TAFE NSW on 131 601 for more information, or check their website at www.tafensw.edu.au.
To find local reading and writing courses contact the Reading and Writing Hotline on 1300 655 506.
Studying at TAFE
Getting qualifications can make it easier to find work. If you’ve finished modules of study with AEVTI or TAFE while in prison, you’re already on the way. If you didn’t get the chance to study in prison, you may have opportunities to get started now.
It’s a good idea to take the results of any courses you’ve done when you go to discuss study options at TAFE or other agencies. They may want to see your academic transcripts (lists of modules and marks).
PEET (Pathways to Employment Education and Training)
TAFE runs PEET through Community Offender Services (Parole) offices in different parts of NSW. Sessions run for four hours each week, over nine weeks. The course helps people who’ve had drug or alcohol issues to set goals for education and work. It’s a good place to start if you’re not sure about your options for work or study. Talk to your Community Corrections Officer if you think PEET could help you.
Finding a TAFE course
TAFE campuses in NSW are organised into groups, called institutes.
Not all courses or services are available at each campus. Many courses will enrol students only once or twice a year. This means that you may have to wait before you can enrol, depending on your release date. Outreach courses and basic education courses start throughout the year.
If you want to find out more about TAFE courses, or already know the area or course you’d like to study, you can get information about TAFE courses at www.tafensw.edu.au or by contacting TAFE on 131 601.
If you’ve left prison and want help to decide whether you could study at TAFE, and what you would study, try talking to a TAFE counsellor. Almost all TAFE colleges have a counsellor, and they’re trained to provide counselling to help people make work and study plans.
TAFE counsellors also help with personal or learning issues that could be barriers to studying successfully. You can find out about courses in your area by contacting the TAFE NSW Information Centre on 131 601 or your nearest TAFE institute.
Fees for TAFE courses
If you’re on a Centrelink pension or benefit you can enrol in a TAFE course for free. For fee paying courses people on Centrelink benefits receive a concession fee, people with a disability and Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are fee exempt. A number of TAFE access courses, such as Outreach courses and basic education courses, are free.
Many courses need textbooks and equipment, which you have to provide.
If you’re Aboriginal, you should be able to get help through Abstudy with buying texts and equipment for the course.
Income while you study at TAFE
If you’re studying full-time at TAFE you should be eligible for Youth Allowance (up to age 24) or Austudy or Abstudy. This means you won’t have the obligations to look for work that go with Newstart.
If you’re Aboriginal, or receiving a Disability Support Pension, you can get some extra help from Centrelink if you’re studying. Contact Centrelink for more information.
Help to succeed at TAFE
TAFE offers introductory learning courses that can help you improve your reading, writing and number skills and learn work skills. These can be stepping stones to other TAFE courses, or to the workforce.
Outreach courses also provide introductory courses that cover a range of entry level vocational areas. They’re usually shorter courses running for about six to ten weeks. For more information, contact the Outreach coordinator at the TAFE institute nearest to you.
Support for Aboriginal students
TAFE offers services to help Aboriginal students to feel comfortable about accessing TAFE courses. Contact an Aboriginal Coordinator at the TAFE institute nearest to you to ask about support for Aboriginal students.
Most campuses will have an Aboriginal student support officer. They can help you with enrolment and give help while you do your course. They’ll have information about any other support services that could help you.
Should I tell TAFE staff about being in prison?
You don’t have to tell anyone about being in prison unless you choose to or are asked. Sometimes TAFE staff will be able to support you better if they do know that you’ve been in prison, but the decision to tell staff is up to you. TAFE counsellors provide a confidential service, so if you tell them that you’ve been in prison they can’t share this information with other TAFE staff. Certificates that you’ve gained in prison may show that you’ve studied at AEVTI. Most people in TAFE who see your certificates will not be aware that you got them in prison.
> Are you interested in studying at a Community College?
Community colleges are non-profit colleges for adults. They’re often located in the grounds of state schools. They offer courses ranging from hobby classes to certificate courses similar to those at TAFE. If you’ve been studying General Education courses in prison, you may be able to continue to work towards a certificate in these subjects at a community college without having to pay fees.
Most of their other courses have fees, and they don’t have the same concessions as TAFE.
To find a community college phone (02) 9642 5622 or visit the Community Colleges Australia website.
> Are you interested in studying at university?
Some jobs need university qualifications. Some universities have alternative entry options, especially for older students. These can include special study programs and special schemes for Aboriginal students.
Fees for university are generally much higher than for TAFE, and students often have to use government loan schemes to pay for them. Local libraries will generally have publications such as the UAC (Universities Admission Centre) Guide, Good Universities Guide or Job Guide with information about university courses. TAFE qualifications at Cert IV level or higher can sometimes count towards the first stage of a university degree. Contact the Universities Admission Centre on (02) 9752 0200 or www.uac.edu.au for more information.
> Do you have debts or unpaid fines?
Face up to debts as soon as you can. Most debts have to be paid eventually. You’ll probably pay less money in the long run if you work with your creditors, rather than avoiding them.
Financial counsellors can help if you owe lots of money. They can often talk for you to people you owe money to.
Financial counsellors can help you sort out affordable payments, and set up a budget. Contact the Credit and Debt Hotline on 1800 007 007 to find a free financial counselling service near you. Or visit their website.
Many people who come out of prison find they owe money for unpaid bills, old fines, etc. A lot of people put off dealing with debts, but this can make it worse in the end because many creditors will keep going until they get the debt paid. By then interest and penalties may have made the debt a lot bigger than it was in the beginning.
If you find yourself in a lot of debt when you get out, ring the Credit and Debt Hotline on 1800 007 007. They can help you sort out your money and find a financial counsellor. Financial counsellors can talk with the people you owe money to, and work out arrangements you can afford. They can often get creditors to come to an agreement, even where you haven’t been able to get the creditors to listen. They can sometimes get the amount you owe reduced.
> Do you owe money to Centrelink?
> Do you owe Child Support money?
> Do you owe Victims Compensation?
> Do you have unpaid fines?
For help dealing with the SDRO find your local community legal centre by calling (02) 9212 7333, or visit this website. Or talk to a financial counsellor.
> Do you need to check your credit record & credit history?
> How to make your money go further
Use your Concession Card and Health Care Card
You can get Concession and Health Care Cards from Centrelink if you get an income support payment or are on a low income. If you’re eligible for a pension card you may save extra money, e.g. on movie tickets.
Beware of fines
Be especially aware of fares and rules with public transport as fines can add up quickly. Contact the Credit and Debt Hotline if you need help sorting out unpaid fines.
Public transport in Sydney and surrounding areas means that you need to have an Opal card. The area covered by the Opal card system is between the following points around Sydney:
- Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney
- Bondi in the east of Sydney
- Goulburn to the south of Sydney
- Scone to the north of Sydney
If you don’t use public transport very often, you can buy an Opal single journey ticket, but if you use trains, buses or ferries a lot, it is usually cheaper in the long-run to get a personal card that you can top-up with credit as you go. Don’t forget to ‘tap on’ and ‘tap off’ at the beginning and end of your journey so that the card charges you the correct fare.
Watch your phone bill
Try a pre-paid mobile so you can could keep track of the costs and avoid surprise big bills.
If you have a support worker, ask if you can make some of your important calls (for example, to other support services) from their office.
If you can’t pay a bill, call the company and explain.
Don’t ignore bills but ask for help from the company to work out smaller payments, which may take a while to pay off slowly but are more manageable. If you show that you are trying to pay the bill, your service will be less likely to be disconnected. The Credit and Debt Hotline can advise you about this.
Help with electricity and gas bills in an emergency
The Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) Scheme helps people experiencing a short term financial crisis or emergency to pay their electricity or gas bill. These can be obtained from CRC by calling us and making an appointment to bring your bill in to us, or various other community agencies. See the EAPA website for more information.
Avoid excess bank fees
Use ATMs from your own bank and check how many free transactions you can have before the bank starts charging for them.
Buy things second-hand or use lay-bys for large items. In Sydney, check this fact sheet from the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre for places to find low cost or free furniture and other household goods.
In regional towns, large charities such as Anglicare, St Vincent de Paul, and the Salvation Army are the best places to go for low-cost furniture.
Material aid means food or food vouchers, electricity vouchers, clothing or furniture. Cash assistance is rare.
Material aid agencies have limited resources and may not be able to help you. Try to be polite if you’re refused, because you may want to ask for assistance another time. If they can’t help you, ask them if they can suggest anyone else you can contact.
Call CRC’s telephone Information and Referral Service (TIRS) on 02 9288 8700 for details of where to find material aid in your area.
> A Quick Guide to Health
You need a Medicare Card to get free or low-cost health services. Call 132 011 or visit the Medicare website for more information.
If you’re on Centrelink payments, you’ll get cheaper prescription medicines and other services if you have a Health Care Card.
Once you leave prison:
Let services know if you have a disability and need additional help.
It can be risky to suddenly stop any type of medication you have been prescribed for mental health problems. Talk to your doctor before stopping medication you’ve been given for any physical or mental health condition. Ask your health provider to contact Justice Health if information is needed about your past or current treatments.
Getting medical treatment
To get free or low-cost medical care, you need a Medicare Card. If you’re an Australian citizen, you may already have a Medicare number. Call Medicare to find out. For more information about getting a Medicare Card call Medicare on 132 011.
Health Care Card
A Health Care Card can save you money on prescriptions and some other services.
Getting dental treatment
You’re eligible for free public dental services if you have a Medicare Card AND a Health Care Card or a Pensioner Concession Card or a Commonwealth Seniors Card.
Emergencies get priority and resources are limited so there is likely to be a waiting list for treatment. To find your nearest public dental service phone your local hospital or community health centre or check here on the NSW Health website.
Outside prison you’ll have new opportunities for sexual relationships, either by returning to your old partner or with someone new. Avoid the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and practise safer sex.
If you have unprotected sex with a person with an STI, you’re at high risk of catching that STI. You can’t tell by looking at someone whether or not they have an STI. Infections that can be sexually transmitted include herpes, gonorrhoea, syphilis, genital herpes, pubic lice (crabs), chlamydia, Hepatitis A and B, and HIV/AIDS.
Condoms help prevent infection
You can prevent most STIs by using condoms during vaginal or anal sex. Condoms will only protect against disease if they’re used every time you have sex. Condoms can also prevent pregnancy. If you only have one sexual partner and are considering not using condoms, then it’s advisable that you both have a sexual health check-up before stopping condom use.
STI symptoms can vary
There are many different STIs and there are many signs that mean you may have caught one. Sometimes there are no signs at all. If you have symptoms of an STI, you’re likely to have a better outcome if you see a health professional early.
Common STI symptoms can include:
- Unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
- Pain during sex or urination
- Sores, blisters, ulcers, warts or rashes in the genital area
- Itchiness or irritation in the genital area
- Persistent diarrhoea
- Fever, flu-like symptoms.
The vast majority of STIs are easy to test for and easy to treat. People who are sexually active should consider a sexual health check-up at least once a year at a GP, sexual health centre or health clinic.
Safer sex for women
It can be hard for women to raise the question of safe sex with a partner.
Women may be concerned that their partner will be offended or annoyed if they ask them to wear a condom. Everyone has a right to protect their own safety in a sexual relationship, and asking a partner to wear a condom is the most effective way to do this. Call the FPA (Family Planning NSW) Healthline on 1300 658 886 or the Sexual Health Information Line on Freecall 1800 451 624 for more information about safer sex.
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver and can be caused by a virus. The most common types of virus are Hepatitis A, B, and C. You can get vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B, but there’s no vaccine for Hepatitis C.
A lot of people in prison have Hepatitis C (Hep C). Hep C is passed on through blood-to-blood contact. The most common way to get Hep C is through sharing needles (fits) and other injecting equipment such as swabs, spoons and filters. It can also be passed on through unsterile tattooing and body piercing. It’s less common for Hep C to be sexually transmitted, but it can occur if there’s blood to-blood contact.
It can take 10 to 15 years for symptoms to start developing and these will affect people in different ways. They can include pains in the liver area (the upper right side of your abdomen), tiredness, nausea, and flu-like symptoms. Some people may develop serious liver problems later in life. A healthy lifestyle, avoiding alcohol, eating a balanced diet and doing exercise can help you feel better and avoid long-term liver damage.
How to avoid Hep C
Hep C survives in blood for a long time, and can be passed on from very small amounts of blood, e.g. through a sore or injecting site. Avoid direct contact with blood, e.g. don’t share personal items such as toothbrushes and razors which may have blood on them. Other personal care items such as hair and nail clippers may also pose a risk if they haven’t been cleaned between uses.
Should I have a Hep C test?
It’s not possible to know if someone has Hep C by how a person looks or feels.
To find out if you have Hep C all you need to do is have a simple blood test.
If you’re considering having a test, the Hep C Helpline (1800 803 990) can provide information and support to help you make this decision. Testing can be done before or after you leave prison. In the community you can get a test at any GP, sexual health centre or health clinic.
One in four people are able to naturally clear the virus from their body within the first 12months of being infected, but they will still show that they have been exposed to the virus when they get the standard Hep C antibody test. To confirm if a person has cleared the virus or not, people can ask their doctor for a PCR test to check if they still have the active Hep C virus. If a person has cleared the virus, they cannot pass it on to others. Even if a person has cleared the virus there’s no protection from getting reinfected with Hep C again in the future, so avoiding contact with other people’s blood is important.
Will my partner, family or friends catch it?
Hep C can’t be passed on to others through everyday social contact.
Hep C cannot be passed on by hugging or sharing plates, cutlery, cups, toilets, baths, etc.
Although it’s extremely unlikely to be passed on through sex, there’s a small risk if there could be blood-to-blood contact (i.e. menstrual blood).
It’s important to use condoms or avoid sex at times when there could be blood present from either person.
There’s a small chance (about 5%) that women may pass Hep C on to a child during pregnancy or birth. It’s unlikely that the virus can be passed on through breastfeeding unless nipples are cracked or bleeding, so breastfeeding is encouraged for Hep C positive mothers.
If I do have Hep C, what can I do?
If you know you have Hep C there are things you can do to look after yourself.
A well-balanced and healthy diet (low in animal fat) may help to relieve symptoms and reduce damage to the liver. Drinking less or giving up alcohol (and other drugs, including cigarettes) is recommended for someone with Hep C as these can be hard on your liver. Resting when tired helps combat fatigue. Mild exercise and maintaining a healthy weight is also important. Regular check-ups with your GP or health clinic are recommended.
There’s a 6–12month course of treatment available for Hep C that can permanently cure between 50% and 80% of people.
Entecavir (Baraclude®) and Tenofovir (Viread®) are two newer antiviral medications which are generally more potent (stronger). They are also taken orally, usually very well-tolerated (unlikely to cause side effects), and the virus is much less likely to become resistant to them with prolonged use.
For more information about treatment, speak with your GP or health clinic, or phone the Hep C Helpline on 1800 803 990.
If you’ve never had Hepatitis A or B, then a vaccination is recommended to prevent infection. There’s no vaccination for Hepatitis C. Even if you already have Hep C, stay clear of blood-to-blood contact to avoid getting another strain (genotype) of Hep C. Having two types of Hep C can make it more difficult to treat.
All sexual health centres offer free Hep C testing and pre- and post-test counselling.
Most of them also offer free Hep A and B vaccinations for people with Hep C.
For more information, and to find your nearest sexual health centre, phone the Sexual Health Info Link on 1800 451 624 or visit their website. Or you can contact the Hep C Helpline.
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. It’s passed on through sexual fluids and blood-to-blood contact. Unsafe sex and sharing of injecting equipment are the most common means of transmission.
Safer sex means correct use of a condom and water-based lubricant during penetrative (anal or vaginal) sex, using condoms or dental dams during oral sex, and wearing latex gloves when penetration with the hands or fingers occurs.
You can be tested for HIV/AIDS at free and confidential specialised services. For more information and to find your nearest centre, contact the Sexual Health Info Link on 1800 451 624.
Pregnancy and HIV/AIDS
If you’re pregnant or wish to have a baby, it’s important to know if you have HIV, because if you’re HIV positive, you may pass it on to your baby. If you’re HIV positive, getting the right medical care early in pregnancy can greatly reduce the chance of passing HIV on to your baby. Talk to your partner, doctor or counsellor about what being infected with HIV means for you and your baby.
There are many options for contraception:
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs) including hormone releasing devices such as Mirena or copper devices
- The contraceptive implant, Implanon NXT
- Contraceptive injections – Depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA)
- The contraceptive vaginal ring – NuvaRing
- Combined oral contraceptive pill (the Pill)
- Progestogen-only contraceptive pill (POP or Mini-Pill)
- Condoms – male and female condoms are the only method that offers protection from both unintended pregnancy and STIs.
- Sterilisation – male or female
Emergency contraception is a special dose of the oral contraceptive pill that can be taken after unprotected sex to reduce the chance of pregnancy. It can be taken up to 72 hours (three days) after unprotected sex, but works best if taken as soon as possible. Visit your chemist, talk to a doctor or other health worker, or phone the FPA (Family Planning NSW) Healthline on 1300 658 886 if you need to access emergency contraception. Keep using your usual contraception in addition to emergency contraception to make sure you don’t become pregnant later in the month.
For more information visit the Family Planning NSW website.
A disability is something that limits your ability to do everyday activities. For example, someone with a physical disability may need a walking stick to get around. Some disabilities are not so obvious, such as an intellectual disability or hearing loss.
If you have a disability you may be eligible for extra services, e.g. to help you manage at home, or find work. It can be helpful to tell service providers about your disability and how it affects you.
If you can’t find the services you need, or feel you’re being discriminated against because of your disability, there are advocacy services that may be able to help.
Acquired brain injury
An acquired brain injury can cause problems with memory loss, controlling emotions, organising life and so on. You may not know that you have an acquired brain injury. Finding out about an acquired brain injury may help you get better medical help and other services.
If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following, it could be helpful to be assessed for acquired brain injury:
- Have you been unconscious for more than 24 hours?
- Have you been a heavy drinker over a long period of time?
- Have you suffered a stroke or tumour, or an illness affecting your brain, such as meningitis?
- Do you have difficulty remembering things or planning things you need to do?
- Have you lost oxygen during an accident, overdose, suicide attempt or assault to your head?
For more information, talk to your doctor or contact the Synapse (Brain Injury Association) NSW on (02) 9868 5261 or 1800 802 840.
If you have a mental illness or were a patient of a mental health service or doctor before coming to prison, you can give permission to the clinic nurse to pass on your information to a service in the community so you can keep getting the medication or other treatment that you need.
If your doctor has prescribed you medication for a mental illness, it’s important that you keep taking it unless your doctor advises you to stop taking it or changes it for you. If you need help with your medication or mental health issues, contact a community health centre, local doctor or your nearest hospital.
If you were referred to a mental health service when you left prison, but you’ve moved or you’ve lost contact with the service, you can go to any community health service or health provider and give them permission to ring the prison to ask for your information so you can get the right medication.
Aboriginal Medical Services
Health care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are located in various parts of the Sydney metropolitan area and country NSW. Ph: (02) 9212 4777 or visit the NSW Health website to find out where the nearest service is.
> A Quick Guide to Eating Well
Buying and cooking your own food is the cheapest way to eat well.
When you leave prison you can choose what you eat, and when. This can be great, but it can also feel a bit overwhelming when you haven’t had these choices for a long time. Take-away food is quick and easy, but it costs a lot, and may not be the best for you.
There are a lot of different ideas about healthy eating, and it’s easy to get confused. Most food experts agree that it’s best to:
- Eat a range of food
- Eat some fruit and vegetables each day
- Eat meat, fish or dairy in moderation
- Not to eat too much deep fried or battered food
- Keep cakes and sugary things for treats, not every day.
Shopping on a budget
Here are some tips for shopping on a budget:
- Write a list before you go and think about what meals you want to cook. This will help you know what you need, and it’s easier to avoid buying things on impulse that you may not need, or won’t use later. Don’t go down the aisles with items you don’t need.
- Never go shopping when you’re hungry because you may be more likely to buy junk food
- Look for the supermarket brand, or the plain tins without pictures. They’re much cheaper, and most of the time they’re just as good.
If you’ve put on weight in prison you may be keen to lose it once you get out. Here are some tips on losing weight.
- Be realistic, aim for small goals and take it step by step, day by day
- Talk to your doctor about losing weight
- Walk or cycle every day as much as possible – which might also save money on public transport fares or petrol
- When you first get out, you might spend a lot of time on your own and find it is easy to eat just to have something to do. Try to stick to meal times, and do something to distract yourself when you think of eating.
What you need in the kitchen
You may need to get some basic equipment for your kitchen. See the list below for some ideas about what you’ll need.
New kitchen equipment isn’t cheap, and you may want to approach agencies like the Salvation Army (Salvos) or St Vincent de Paul (Vinnies) for help with second-hand things, at least until you get settled. Or you could try $2 shops, which will usually be cheaper than the big chain stores for these items.
Once you’re settled you can replace things with better-quality items if you wish. Also think about the stove you’ll be using. If you don’t have a griller, a frying pan or wok will be useful for cooking meat.
Basic kitchen equipment:
- Small and large plate
- Dessertspoon, teaspoon and knife
- Sharp vegetable knife
- Chopping board (or use large plate – gently!)
- Medium-sized saucepan with lid (handy for straining pasta, etc)
- Frying pan or wok
- Mixing bowl (or use ice cream container)
- Egg slice
- Tea towel
Extra equipment – you could add one or two of these to your shopping list each week:
- Vegie peeler
- Bread knife
- Whisk or egg beater
- Wooden spoon
- Potato masher
- Oven tray
Find cheap and easy recipe ideas on websites like these:
> A Quick Guide to Drugs & Alcohol
To help you stay clean consider:
- Getting a Medicare Card
- Referral to detox or rehab programs
- Going to NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or AA (Alcoholics Anonymous)
- Attending a SMART Recovery Group
- Referral for drug or alcohol counselling
Contact the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on (02) 9361 8000 or 1800 422 599 for information about detox, counselling, rehab and drug use, and for telephone support or call CRC for referral.
If you want to avoid or control your alcohol or other drug use, you’ll need to put a realistic support plan in place now. The same temptations and opportunities to use are still out there, so if you want to stay clean, the following information may help. If you’re likely to inject drugs when you get out, see the harm reduction section on this website which provides important information on how to do so as safely as possible.
Methadone and buprenorphine programs
An appointment with a methadone/buprenorphine doctor should have been be arranged at before your release. That way you stand a better chance of getting the doctor you want and the pharmacy or clinic of your choice.
If you haven’t made these arrangements, you may have to wait a week or more after you get out before you can see someone. A lot can happen in a week.
To re-register on a methadone or buprenorphine program you’ll need a passport photo and a Medicare Card.
Some doctors will charge a fee so make sure that the doctor you see can ‘bulk bill’. This means you won’t have to pay anything or pay a smaller amount.
Methadone or buprenorphine is expensive at around $7.00 a day, especially if you’re not working. You might be able to get the fees waived in the short term or find a clinic which charges less. To find a methadone provider close to you, call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on (02) 9361 8000 or 1800 422 599. Also have a look at the this methadone fact sheet.
Live-in rehab programs
Live-in rehab (residential rehabilitation) can be useful if you don’t think you’ll be able to cope with the temptation to have a ‘taste’ once you’re out. They provide a roof over your head as well as help with drug treatment. However, you need to be serious about staying clean, because most rehab programs will kick you out if you use. You may have to go to a detox program first. ADIS will give you numbers of rehabs in your area. Otherwise, call TIRS on 02 9288 8700 to discuss options.
Withdrawal (detox) programs
You can usually get into detox more quickly than into a residential program, but the wait can be long as there are not enough services to meet demand.
There are different ways to detox, some easier and slower, some quicker but more difficult. ADIS can provide information on different services in your area, how much they cost, and so on. Outpatient (non-residential) detox is available in some areas, usually through public hospitals.
NA and AA meetings (Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous)
NA and AA meetings can help you cope with the temptation to drink or use, especially if you go regularly and find a good meeting. Some meetings may be more helpful than others, so don’t be put off if you don’t like your first meeting – try a different one instead.
NA and AA are based on the ‘12 step’ system, which requires you to admit you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict and commit to abstinence. That means you aim not to use or drink at all. AA and NA don’t believe you can drink or use ‘a little bit’. You can still go to meetings if you ‘stuff up’, but not if you’re drug or alcohol affected at the time.
If you’d prefer to control your drinking or drug use rather than stopping altogether, or if you simply find the 12-step meetings unhelpful, consider SMART Recovery Groups or counselling as an alternative. 12 step meetings are helpful for many people but not for everyone.
SMART Recovery Groups
SMART Recovery Groups provide a different type of self-help and support meetings for people with alcohol and drug problems. SMART Recovery Groups can help you to identify your triggers for alcohol and drug use, analyse the cost and benefits of use, and identify helpful strategies to prevent relapse. Ring ADIS to find out where SMART Recovery Groups are held in your area.
Drug and alcohol counselling
Drug and alcohol counselling involves sitting down with a counsellor and talking about your drug or alcohol issues. The counsellor may give you tips and strategies for dealing with the urge to drink or use, work on a ‘relapse prevention’ plan with you, and help you look at the way you use drugs or alcohol to block bad feelings. Usually you’d see a counsellor about once a week. Counselling can help you deal with the temptation to relapse into using again.
Detox is only the start. The hard part is not using when things go wrong in your life, or when you’re in a situation of temptation (e.g. when you meet ‘old friends’ from the drug scene). A counsellor can help you cope with these situations. If you do use again, your counsellor can help get you back on track. Counsellors don’t tell you not to use drugs or judge you if you use. Counsellors know that most people need more than one try at stopping, and will not reject you or criticise you if you have a few ups and downs along the way.
ADIS (Alcohol and Drug Information Service)
ADIS is a good number to call for any drug and alcohol related information. They can give you the phone numbers of detox programs, drug and alcohol counselling services, and rehabs. They also give out information about different drugs, and can offer counselling over the phone. Don’t feel that you can only call ADIS in a crisis. They can give referrals and general information about drugs and alcohol at any time. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sydney metropolitan: call 02 9361 8000, for regional & rural NSW freecall 1800 422 599.
Or check out the ADIS website.
Contact to find a self-help group near you. See their website here.
Community health centres
Community health centres may offer methadone or alcohol and other drugs counselling and treatment services. To find your nearest service, ring the Department of Health on 02 9391 9000, or find your your local health district information here.
Contact NA to find a self-help group in your area. Visit their website, or call 1300 652 820.
NSW Users and AIDS Association (NUAA)
Peer-based service for people who use drugs illicitly. Call 02 8354 7300, or 1800 644 413 from outside Sydney. Visit the NUAA website.
Advice and information on how to quit smoking. Call 13 78 48 or visit the Quit Now website.
Detox and rehab programs
There are many rehabs and detox services in NSW. Ring ADIS and ask them what services are available in your area. Sydney metropolitan call 02 9361 8000, or from regional and rural NSW freecall 1800 422 599.
Visit the Alcohol & Drug Information Service website.
> A Quick Guide to Harm Reduction for Drugs & Alcohol
It is safest not to use drugs at all. The information provided in this section is based on health promotion and harm reduction material from the Department of Health, the Hepatitis C Council of NSW and the AIDS Council of NSW (ACON).
Quick Guide to Safer Injecting
Be aware that people who’ve recently left prison have a high risk of overdose. Reduce the risk of overdose by:
- Not mixing drugs
- Testing with smaller amounts and going slow
- Not using alone
- Learning mouth-to-mouth first aid.
- Avoid viruses such as HIV, Hep B and Hep C by:
- Using a clean fit every time
- Using Needle and Syringe Programs (NSPs)
- Not sharing any injecting equipment.
There’s no such thing as safe use of street drugs. However, there are ways to reduce the risk of harm that can go with drug use.
People who’ve recently left prison have a high risk of overdosing. (The risk of a fatal overdose is up to 14 times greater for men who’ve been in a correctional centre than for men in general, and as much as 70 times greater for women). If you’ve stopped using, or have been using a weaker strength drug, your body’s tolerance will have been reduced.
Avoiding an overdose
To reduce the chance of an overdose:
- Avoid combining drugs. Mixing heroin or other opiates with other drugs increases the risk of overdose. Drinking alcohol and benzodiazepines (such as Valium, Serapax) is also very risky.
- Test with small amounts and go slow – wait at least five minutes (the longer the better) before another hit.
- Think about tolerance – if you haven’t used for a while or are using less, you should try a small amount first.
Never use alone. Think what will happen if you drop (overdose). Having someone else present when using could mean the difference between life and death.
The Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC)
The Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) operates at 66 Darlinghurst Rd, Kings Cross. You can call them on 02 9360 1191.
The MISC is open:
- Monday: 9.30am to 9.30pm
- Tuesday: 9.30am to 3.45pm, 6.00pm to 9.30pm
- Wednesday to Friday: 9.30am to 9.30pm
- Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays: 9.30am to 5.30pm
Clients must be over 18 years old. The centre is totally confidential and non-judgemental.
The centre has booths where people can inject themselves, waste bins for used syringes, a fully-equipped resuscitation room to manage drug overdoses, and a counselling room.
There are two trained staff, including a registered nurse, permanently on duty. Rather than using alone, consider attending the MSIC, where you’ll be supported to use more safely.
Additional information for people with Hep C
If you have Hep C and/or some damage to your liver you may have a greater risk of overdose because your liver may break down drugs more slowly, and their effects may last longer. Combining drugs increases this risk.
Safer injecting is important for people who are Hep C positive because you can be reinfected with a different strain (genotype) or infect others with the Hep C virus. Not only syringes with minute amounts of blood can spread the disease but also tourniquets and fingers – even in microscopic amounts – can get into a shared mix, filters or water and onto injection sites.
Avoiding HIV/AIDS, Hep B, Hep C and other blood-borne viruses
To prevent the spread of blood-borne viruses don’t reuse syringes and don’t share any drug using equipment. Needle and Syringe Programs (NSPs) provide new syringes and injecting equipment either free or at low cost. They can also provide information on injecting safely, and referral to other services such as drug treatment, medical care and legal and social services. NSPs also provide condoms and lube for safer sex.
Some areas have roaming NSP vans. Other places where you can get new injecting equipment include the emergency department of your local hospital, community health centres, and some pharmacies. To find your nearest NSP contact the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS).
Protect others in our community by disposing of fits in a special sharps container. You can also give your used injecting equipment to NSPs for safe disposal.
Some facts about overdose
Narcan is the heroin-blocking drug that paramedics (‘ambos’) give to people who’ve overdosed. Only Narcan can revive someone who’s OD’d.
Cold baths and showers, coffee, speed, ice, injections of lemon juice or water, walking around, and so on are all useless.
Ambos won’t call the police to an overdose unless they’re threatened at the scene, or the OD is fatal. Don’t fail to call the ambos because you think they’ll bring the police.
Narcan won’t protect you from a second overdose if you hit up again shortly after being revived. The Narcan wears off in half an hour to an hour, and you could drop again. Narcan won’t affect benzos or other drugs you’ve taken apart from heroin.
Just because someone doesn’t drop immediately doesn’t mean they haven’t OD’d.
Overdoses can occur quickly or slowly, and the person may go in and out of consciousness several times.
People die from overdose because they stop breathing. The brain is starved of oxygen and eventually dies. Brain damage will occur within three to five minutes of a person ceasing to breathe, which is why you must call an ambulance immediately, and know how to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Signs of overdose include:
- Not responding when talked to
- Blue lips and fingernails
- Cold, clammy skin
- Snoring or gurgling sounds.
What to do if a friend overdoses:
- Talk to them and try to get a response.
- If they don’t respond, call 000 immediately and ask for an ambulance.
- A person will die quickly once they stop breathing.
- Don’t waste time trying to bring them round yourself.
- Lie the person on their side and clear their mouth of spit, vomit or anything else. Tilt their head back slightly to clear their airway. Snoring noises indicate the person’s airway may still be partially blocked. Tilt the head further back.
- If the person is not breathing, give them ‘mouth-to-mouth’
How to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
- Danger – check that there is no danger to you or others.
- Response – check if the person is responsive (to your voice or touch).
- Airway – look at the person’s mouth and nose and remove obvious obstructions such as vomit, blood, food or loose teeth. (Only put the person on their side to clear the mouth and nose if the airway is still obstructed, then put them back on their back on a firm surface to commence chest compressions.)
- Breathing – check if the person is breathing normally (gasping is not normal breathing). If the person is breathing normally place into the recovery position and wait for help. If they are not breathing normally, start CPR.
- Start CPR – place one hand on the centre of the person’s chest, with your other hand on top and interlock your fingers. With the heel of the bottom hand, press down by one-third of the chest depth, at a steady rate, slightly faster than one compression per second. For smaller children and toddlers use the heel of one hand only. After every 30 chest compressions, give two rescue breaths.
- Rescue breaths – Check that the mouth and airway are clear of blood, vomit, and loose teeth or food. One hand is placed on the forehead or top of the head. The other hand is used to provide chin lift. The head (NOT the neck) is tilted backwards. It is important to avoid excessive force, in case of possible neck injury. Pinch the person’s nose. Take a breath and seal your mouth over their mouth and blow steadily and firmly into their mouth. Check that their chest rises. Perform 2 rescue breaths, lasting just over 1 second.
- Continue with cycles of 30 chest compressions then 2 rescue breaths until the person begins to recover or emergency help arrives.
- Defibrillate – attach an AED (automated external defibrillator) if available and follow the prompts.
- A person may show signs of recovery by moving, breathing normally, coughing or talking.
This is just a guide – training will help you be better prepared. The Red Cross runs the Save-A-Mate (SAM) program, a first aid course designed specifically for overdoses. The fee is usually $55 but much cheaper if you explain your circumstances. Visit the Save-A-Mate website.
Call the Red Cross on (02) 9229 4111 or 1800 812 028 for more information.
Safer injecting sites
You must only inject into veins. Veins carry blood towards the heart, and arteries carry blood away from the heart. Hitting an artery is dangerous because drugs injected into an artery have to pass through the capillaries before they get to the brain. These tiny blood vessels can become blocked, causing severe bruising, gangrene and even loss of a limb.
You can’t tell veins and arteries apart by the colour of the blood – all blood is red. Larger arteries have a pulse. Never inject into a blood vessel that has a pulse.
How to tell if you hit an artery:
- The blood will force back the plunger
- The blood may appear frothy when you draw back
- The artery may bleed heavily when you take out the needle and/or cause a rapidly growing bruise under the skin
- The artery may hurt if you try to inject.
If you hit an artery:
- Pull out immediately
- Apply firm pressure for at least half an hour
- Raise the affected area if possible
- Lie down
- Contact a doctor or ring 000 for an ambulance.
Avoid injecting into your groin, neck, hands and feet. Avoid the veins below the waist as they can lead to serious circulation problems if damaged. When injecting into a vein, inject with the blood flow (towards the heart). Make sure there’s adequate light when injecting. Blast slowly and pull out if you experience any pain, discomfort or swelling. If your veins are blocked, consider another method of taking your drug, such as sniffing, swallowing, smoking or stuffing.
Avoiding infection and other problems
Even with new syringes, if you don’t inject properly you place yourself at risk of bruising, ‘dirty hits’, blood poisoning and abscesses (collections of pus under the skin). The following are only some basic tips. You should speak to a health worker about the safest method.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before injecting.
- Make sure all your equipment (swabs, water, spoon, tourniquet, filter, fit, etc) is new and sterile. Don’t share any part of your equipment, even a tourniquet. Hep C can be transmitted by tiny, unseen amounts of blood on hands or equipment if it comes into contact with another person’s bloodstream (e.g. through contact with the injecting site). Take extra care with group mixes. Don’t double-dip your syringe into the mix after it’s been used.
- Sterile water is better than boiled water, but boiled water is better than straight tap water.
- Use sterile alcohol swabs (Mediswabs) to clean the spoon and the injecting area (different swab for each). Allow the spoon or skin time to dry after wiping. Wipe the injection site only once and in one direction.
- Don’t use filters from tailor-made cigarettes to filter your drugs, as these contain glass fibres that can damage your heart and veins if injected.
- When filtering always use a cotton wool ball. You can even use a tampon or cotton bud in an emergency.
- Use a tourniquet that’s easy to release and make sure you release it before injecting.
- After injecting, keep your arm straight and apply pressure to the injecting site with a clean tissue/cotton ball for a couple of minutes to help reduce bruising and bleeding. Don’t use a swab to wipe the site after injecting as this can actually encourage bleeding (swabs contain alcohol).
- Always dispose of your used fit in a ‘sharps’ disposal bin or at an NSP.
- Never reuse a fit, because a blunt and dirty fit can increase the risk of infections and vein problems.
- Clean up any blood with a clean tissue and water (soapy water if available).
- Throw away old swabs and filters in a double plastic bag. Don’t reuse them.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warmwater after each hit.
- Rotate injection sites. Alternate the site every time you inject. Give the skin and the vein time to recover.
- Rubbing Lasonil or Hirudoid cream into your arm after about ten minutes will help reduce bruising and swelling.