From a small idea, to the Sydney Opera House
For the majority of the Australian public, television news reports of an offender being sentenced in court and led into a prison van are the final images they have of the justice system.
Little are they aware that it’s when the offenders arrive at prison that the journey to safely manage and rehabilitate them begins.
About 25,000 experienced and well-trained staff across Australia supervise inmates in prisons and manage offenders on parole and community-based court orders.
They work hard to reduce reoffending and keep the community safe, but they receive little recognition from the public.
When Sydney-based radio reporter Rebecca Simpson went for a job interview at Corrective Services NSW in 2016, these thoughts were playing on her mind.
“I was applying for a job as a senior media adviser and during the interview I proposed the idea of ‘Corrections Day’, an annual event to give thanks to the thousands of corrections staff in NSW,” Ms Simpson says.
“Other frontline services, such as police, ambulance and fire fighters are always seen in the public and rightly celebrated, but corrections officers were the missing and unknown piece of the emergency-services puzzle.
“The job panel must have been impressed, because I won the gig and then had to set about coming up with a way to introduce and celebrate Corrections Day.”
The first Corrections Day was on Friday 20 January 2017 and was preceded by a two-week media campaign featuring staff profiles and prison tours with the aim of educating the public about corrections and making staff feel proud.
Staff were also encouraged to host workplace morning teas, barbecues or other gatherings.
It was an instant success and other jurisdictions in Australia were paying attention: by the following year it was renamed National Corrections Day and adopted by all states and territories and New Zealand to be held on the third Friday of every January.
In the past five years, the day has gained momentum in NSW transforming from a modest media campaign into a much-anticipated annual event featuring awards ceremonies, staff celebrations and social media stories.
On 26 January, NSW NCD ambassadors had their photographs projected onto the sails of the Sydney Opera House, as part of a celebration of frontline workers for their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ICPA President and CSNSW Commissioner Peter Severin says National Corrections Day acknowledges the challenging work corrections staff do on a daily basis and says the event should be adopted internationally.
“Australian corrections staff have truly embraced the event,” Mr Severin says.
“National Corrections Day has broken down the walls of prisons and Community Corrections offices to show the public the real faces of the men and women working in corrections.
“The event could be used by agencies around the world to boost morale and to educate the community about the complex and often dangerous work that is being done behind the scenes to keep them safe.”
Mr Severin marks NCD each year by working a shift on the frontline, while senior executive also join staff on the ground.
NSW private prison operators – MTC-Broadspectrum, Serco and GEO Group – this year adopted the day for the first time, hosting staff celebrations and media visits.
Across Australia, other jurisdictions continue to mark the day in new and innovative ways.
In Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Australia Capital Territory, large landmarks were lit up in corrections colours to honour staff.
Sister agencies are also tipping their hat to the day, with NSW Police and others sharing NCD21 posts on social media.
Ms Simpson says she never imagined how big the day would become, but it was not without planning.
“A great deal of thought, organisation and resources have gone into making the day a success, year after year,” Ms Simpson says.
“We knew from the start that we needed staff to engage with the day and take ownership of National Corrections Day.
“Apart from an exhaustive media campaign – which includes about 30 staff profiles – we also place a big emphasis on encouraging staff on the ground to host their own workplace events.”
The CSNSW digital production unit creates a series of NCD posters, which people individualise to promote their barbecue, morning tea, bake-off or other gathering.
This year for the first time, Director and Assistant Commissioner Commendations were presented to deserving staff at special event-day workplace ceremonies.
“We didn’t just throw our staff in front of the media and hope for the best – all the people selected to represent their workplaces were given a one-day media training session to teach them how to tell their story in a mock interview,” Ms Simpson says.
“Another critical part of our planning was to establish an NCD committee with representatives from every division of CSNSW. This ensures all areas are represented and we have people advocating the day to their staff.”
Since 2019, National Corrections Day has a theme, which helps create a fresh news angle every year.
This year it was Working together to reduce reoffending, recognising the work staff do to support offenders through education, training, cultural and therapeutic programs.
In 2020 it was We Are Family, celebrating the camaraderie of CSNSW staff who work together like one big family and the many staff who are related.
In 2019, the theme was Working Corrections, emphasising the valuable role of prison industries and community-service work teams in rehabilitating offenders and giving back to the community.
That year, the industry arm of NSW prisons, Corrective Services Industries, sponsored the creation of NCD mementoes, including a branded keyring, pen, lanyard and ribbon, which were distributed to staff.
“I know there has been some interest from overseas jurisdictions in celebrating the day, and to see that happen would be a fantastic outcome,” Ms Simpson says.
If you’re interested in adopting Corrections Day, the CSNSW media unit has created a ‘how-to’ manual with a step-by-step guide on planning and promotion. To request a copy, please email [email protected]