Source — ABCRead country-profile
Australia: Inside one of most productive prisons and the program turning inmates' lives around
Walking into the Cadell low-security prison north-east of Adelaide, visitors instantly notice the atmosphere is unlike the usual grim portrayal of life in custody. Instead, there is a great sense of hope.
Citrus and olive trees grow in the thousands, there is a dairy farm, prisoners walk around and only a small wire fence lines the boundary.
An inmate working in one of the prison’s industries described it as a “silver-lining” to incarceration, because it meant he would have a chance at a job when he was released.
“You get to achieve things that you normally wouldn’t on the outside. It’s just extra skills for when you [look] for work opportunities,” he said.
Prison manager David Oates believed some of the men would have a second chance at life if they used their time wisely and learnt new skills.
“One of the problems with reoffending, why people come back [to prison], is that they have unstable work and they have unstable accommodation,” he said.
Over the past five years South Australia’s rate of prisoner reoffending has remained at more than 40 per cent.
In a bid to decrease the statistic by 10 per cent in two years, the South Australian Government introduced the Work Ready, Release Ready program in several of the state’s prisons to guide inmates to employment after release.
It assigned inmates to a mentor to develop an employment plan, helped them achieve skills for a job, and provided them with ongoing support for several weeks when they were released.
Cadell is one prison that has started the initiative to complement its existing industries, and Mr Oates said it had a good chance of making a difference.
Prisoner Jacob (not his real name) agreed and said not having a job contributed to crimes.
“If you get out and go straight into work, you’re not going to go and do crime are you? Because you’ve got money,” he said.
Since its launch in March, 230 prisoners have signed up and 27 of those released have jobs.
Prisoner Simon (not his real name) has been in and out of the system several times.
But with a job lined up for him already, he believes it might be his last time behind bars.
“I’ve always felt that there needs to be an ongoing support service for people that come to jail, and I just feel that up until [now] it hasn’t really been there,” he said.
“So I suppose for the first time in my experience I actually feel very confident that what I’ve done here and how I’ve been treated … I can get out and make good positive choices with my life and hopefully never come back.”
Prisoner John (not his real name) was regularly fighting fires with the Country Fire Service and is eager for a job with the brigade.
“It gives you a sense of purpose. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” he said.
“It really makes you reflect on things and therefore we put in more effort [into prison work opportunities] because we want to come out not bitter and twisted, but whole,” he said.
The program’s manager, Melissa Buttery from Workskil Australia, is so far impressed with the results as more than 95 per cent of eligible inmates are voluntarily signing up.
She said the main challenge was for the mentor to convince a prospective employer that a prisoner was going to be a dedicated employee.
“Prisoners are so grateful to be given a second chance,” she said.
“There’s one employer we’re working with at the moment that we’ve strongly advocated for someone to get a job with, and the feedback from that employer is that ‘He beats us to work every day’.”