VACRO is one of Australia’s longest-standing independent, non-denominational community organisations. For 148 years we’ve supported people in contact with the criminal justice system. Learn more about the support we offer and see the impact of our work.

Founded in response to community need

In 1872, the Royal Commission into Penal Establishments and Gaols recommended founding a body to help people on their release from prison. VACRO, then known as the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society, was born.

The Society was established to “afford assistance to discharged prisoners with a view to their restoration to a virtuous and honest mode of living.” Its work focused on providing material aid to people leaving prison. At Christmas, volunteers would fill “close on 700 large paper bags with a pound of excellent fruitcake, a large block of cheese, some boiled sweets, a cake of chocolate, and a proportionate number of apples, oranges, bananas and apricots”.

From the early days of the establishment of penal institutions in Australia, we’ve played a leading role in how society responds to people leaving prison. Over our 148-year history, we’ve evolved with the needs of our clients and their families, providing practical and personal support to reduce the harm caused by crime and help people move forward with their lives.

A long history of reintegration

VACRO is Victoria’s sole specialist criminal justice reintegration service. From our early days as the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society, we’ve been there for people in contact with the criminal justice system, offering the support people need to integrate back into their communities from prison.

We’re a service created by a community response, and adaptive to what communities need. Responding to the needs of women in prison, the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society established a Ladies Branch Committee in 1873. It acknowledged that “the mode of helping females must be widely different from that which might be successful in the case of males”. Since then, VACRO has provided gender-responsive services for women, including mentoring for women and assistance with childcare and transport for women completing community-based orders.

From community service to social change

VACRO has responded to many social changes over our history.

Changes in welfare philosophy and practice in the 1970s saw an expansion in self-help and voluntary groups in the social services sector, a reduction in state interference, and increased recognition of the importance of the dignity of those in need. This promoted the Society to change its name to the Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, reflecting a more contemporary approach. Our work shifted from offering material aid to providing intensive support through transition and community integration.

In 1976, we expanded our focus to the children and families of people in prison. We opened the Visitors’ House in Coburg, just outside of Pentridge Prison, to support visiting wives and families. In the 1990s, the prison closed, private prisons were established, and government structures changed considerably. We responded by refining our services to emphasise family and individual support, access to services, and program referral.

In 1999, VACRO moved to our premises on Hardware Street, on the fringes of Melbourne’s legal precinct. Today, we offer specialised, progressive programs and ideas about reducing the impact of crime on people, families and communities.

Every day, we work for new beginnings for people and their families, and stronger communities for all.