Law Week 2018 Justice Journeys

Lynne McNairn

Lynne shares her Justice Journey spanning 25 years, across two continents.

Lynne McNairn is one of the many Queensland Corrective Services officers who ensure the safe, secure and humane management of prisoners.  As the Violence Prevention Coordinator at the Wolston Correctional Centre in Wacol, Queensland, she is surrounded by potential violence every day. Yet as she takes me on a tour of the centre, she is treated with the utmost respect from the prisoners residing there.

It’s no wonder. Her warmth is obvious to anyone who meets her. She immediately puts you at ease and makes you feel like a member of her family. It quickly made sense how she has gained the respect of prisoners.

‘To earn respect, you give respect’ is her motto in life but particularly in an often challenging environment where respect can often be overlooked.

Lynne started her Justice Journey over 25 years ago, 15,000 kilometres away in Stirling, Scotland. She trained as a nurse and at the end of her training applied for a nursing job with the Scottish Prison Service. Much to Lynne’s surprise, she was offered a job as a Prison Officer, to help meet a growing demand for female prison officers at the time.

She worked in the Scottish Prison Service until 2010 when her family decided to check out life on the other side of the world in Australia. Initially just here for two years, Lynne has stayed for eight and became a citizen. She now happily calls Australia home.

“When we arrived, I was looking forward to having some time off work, but that quickly changed after a few months and I was ready to return to work,” Lynne said.

With her background as a Prison Officer, she made some local enquiries but her lack of permanent residency or citizenship held her back from following her passion.

She landed a retail position as a manager at Wallace Bishop, but  soon realised she would much rather work with prisoners than retail customers.

Lynne outside Wolston Correctional Centre

After two years, Lynne became a permanent resident which opened the door to the career she longed to return to.

“After a few years, I decided to have a look around and saw that Queensland Corrective Services was hiring.”

In 2014, Lynne landed a temporary position in administration and human resources and worked in the prison’s ‘main store’ when she secured a permanent position at the centre.

A few years later, the position of Violence Prevention Coordinator was advertised and Lynne applied. With her wealth of experience, she was suitably qualified for the role and was offered the job.

“My 100 per cent focus is on protecting people within the centre and the broader community,” she said.

As the Violence Prevention Coordinator, Lynne works with challenging behaviour, but puts her heart and soul into reshaping the lives of prisoners by teaching them ways to refocus their violent tendencies.

“When I say to some of them that it’s not OK to hit someone, they look at me in surprise, but I will never give up on them because that is what they have known their whole lives.”

Lynne meets with many of the prisoners on a regular basis – some take their own initiative and ask to speak to her. She also runs programs, such as the Peace Education Program to teach prisoners about inner peace.

The program is an opt-in course and runs once a week for two hours. It teaches self-reflection, contentment, hope and understanding. The fact that Lynne has a list of prisoners waiting to attend the course is testament to its effectiveness.

“Since March 2017, we’ve seen 143 prisoners successfully through the Peace Education Program at Wolston. Of those 76 were in custody for violent offences and since completing the course, we’ve had just a two per cent of that cohort involved in incidents.”

Lynne said that number is down from the 30 per cent who were involved in custodial incidents prior to the course.

“It’s about changing behaviour, teaching them to think differently, making better choices and getting them to understand that violence is not acceptable behaviour.”

“If there is one thing I say or do that makes a difference in one person’s life, I feel I have succeeded.”