Victorian prisoners are making a real difference in reducing bullying through the creation of Friendship Seats that have been installed in school playgrounds in Melbourne’s southeast.
Friendship Seats were an innovative extension of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation's Better Buddies program, designed to create friendly and caring school communities to help reduce bullying.
Friendship Seats are a way for students who feel lonely to make friends in the playground. By sitting on the seat, teachers and other students are alerted that they would like to be included in lunchtime activities.
The idea behind Friendship Seats was to support children who experience feelings of isolation or sadness at school.
Prisoners from Marngoneet Correctional Centre in Lara have spent hours perfecting the seats. One prisoner reported that building the Friendship Seats was "why I get up in the morning".
"I have gained a sense of achievement participating in the program, as it highlights a very serious issue that I feel strongly about. This program will hopefully shed some light on bullying in schools, prevent young children from falling into a life of crime, and even help with things as simple as self worth and happiness," said another participant involved in the program.
The link between bullying and violence in later life was explored in research, by National Centre Against Bullying member, Professor Sheryl Hemphill, which revealed school bullies are twice as likely to become violent adults.
Wayne Harper, General Manager of Marngoneet Correctional Centre, said the prisoners "really enjoyed" working on this project, as it helped them reflect on an issue that many have experienced and provides a valuable way for them to give back to society, whilst learning valuable skills.
"There are a lot of people who come into the prison system who may not have had much experience in long-term, steady employment. This provides another opportunity for offenders to get involved in a worthwhile project on a daily basis and learn skills they can take back out into the real world," he said.
A total of 200 seats have been installed in Better Buddies schools across the South East Metropolitan Region.
Beverley Garratt, Regional Community Work Program Manager at the Department of Justice (DoJ), saw huge value in the collaborative project as it gave "DoJ, prisoners, offenders and partners an opportunity to play a major role to reduce bullying in schools".
The Friendship Seat project was a partnership between the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, Marngoneet Correctional Centre, the Education Department, AVIS Australia and the South East Metropolitan Region Community Work Team.
For more information on Better Buddies, visit www.betterbuddies.org.au or call 1300 341 343.
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