About History Our history VACRO is one of Australia’s oldest 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 stockade at Pentridge Prison, 1849, watercolour painting. Artist unknown. Source: State Library of Victoria's Pictures Collection. 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 only specialist criminal justice reintegration service. From our days as the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society to now, we’ve been there for people caught in the criminal justice system, created by a community response and adaptive to what communities need. Female wardens at Melbourne Gaol, some time between 1915 and 1924, photograph. Source: State Library of Victoria's Pictures Collection. In 1873 the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society established a Ladies Branch Committee to response to the needs of women in prison. 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, we have provided a range of gender-responsive services, 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. Pentridge Prison main entrance, 1964, photograph. Photographer: John T Collins. Source: JT Collins Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria. 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.