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Admin staff celebrated for their service to inmates

What goes on behind prison walls has long been a source of fascination, but many jobs found on the outside are also needed in prisons, though the tasks can be quite different.

NSW correctional centres and Community Corrections offices will celebrate the hard work and dedication of non-custodial staff on Administrative Professionals Day on Friday, 5 May.

This includes Administration Support Officer Abbey Bernardello and Visits and Bookings Coordinator George Fokias who provide essential services to inmates at Parklea Correctional Centre and their families.

Abbey started at Parklea about six months ago after working at a childcare centre. The majority of her work involves answering telephone enquiries from the public and processing mail for inmates.

“I get calls from people asking if their inmate is here, if they’re okay and can I give them a message, what can they send in the mail and what can they bring to a visit,” Abbey said.

“I can’t send messages to inmates, but I can email the wing officers and ask them to organise a welfare call.”

Abbey said she sometimes had to deal with abusive or emotional people who were upset about their loved one being in prison, especially when she is unable to provide the information they want due to privacy rules.

“People skills and communication are very important. I have to figure out what I’m allowed to say that’s not going to make them angry and let them down easy when I can’t give them what they want.”

Abbey also processes the mail, which sometimes contains contraband and other banned items.

“We have to wear gloves when handling the mail in case there’s a weird substance on it and so we don’t leave fingerprints in case there’s an investigation,” Abbey said.

“We call intel if there’s something suspicious found in the mail and all legal mail and property that gets sent in gets logged and checked by our K9 dog team.

“Lots of letters are covered in perfume and lipstick kisses, but explicit photos get sent back.”

She said she enjoys the job as there’s always something different every day.

“You have to deal with a lot of different people and this job has built up my confidence a lot.”

George has worked at Parklea for nine years after seeking a career change from running takeaway businesses in Sydney and regional NSW. He works with the visits team, helping people register for a visit, book a visit and facilitating it when they arrive at the prison.

“Some people find the process very daunting and you have to be very accommodating,” George said.

Despite in-person visits now being able to be booked online, he and the team still get lots of calls.

“On Mondays and Tuesdays we can get 1,300 calls a day and some people don’t speak a lot of English, so we use other staff or Google to help translate,” George said.

“We have four sessions a day, except Tuesday, with a maximum of 30 inmates at each one with up to four visitors, so that’s up to 120 inmates and 480 visitors.

“We have to check when they arrive that they are the person who made the booking using the documents they provided when they registered for a visit.”

George said he enjoyed the job because he likes people and enjoys helping them.

“We are their first point of contact. Some people are nervous and I tell them it’s safe and secure.

“We have a very good relationship with visitors and we have received thank you cards from some of them.”

Like Abbey, he understands the importance of communication skills and empathy when speaking to family members who may be distressed.

“I try to calm them down and they do understand you’re trying to help them.

“There’s a lot of processes involved, but protocol has to be followed and we respect and follow that.”

For more information on the types of roles available at Parklea, go to:

Parklea has been operated by MTC Australia on behalf of Corrective Services NSW since 2019.