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HomeIssue 36Local business has nothing to fear: Prison bosses

Local business has nothing to fear: Prison bosses

p2157-prison-trussesBy ERWIN CHLANDA
Correctional Services launched a robust media blitz this morning countering rumours that taxpayer funded enterprises being set up in the jail will harm local businesses.
Journalists and photographers were behind bars for several hours, getting a Cook’s Tour of the workshops where inmates make things or are being taught how to.
Superintendent Bill Yan and Tim Cross, Director, Industries and Employment in the prisons system, countered stories circulating in town recently.
The rumour mill, according to informed sources, even led to fisticuffs early on Sunday morning between two prominent business figures in one of the town’s better suburbs.
More will be said at a public meeting this evening (6pm, Andy McNeill Room at the Civic Centre) where it is likely to be confirmed that there will be neither a dough making machine nor a kitchen fabrication workshop in the prison.
The commercial strategies are clear, say Mr Yan and Mr Cross: Correctional Services make no apologies for – as much as they can – producing what they need for the running of the prison. This can range from baking sausage rolls (not bread), usually imported from SA, to making bed frames or fixing lawn mowers.
The prison will not compete against local businesses, they. Sales outside will be made only when there are no local suppliers, when the goods are not available in the NT and when there is a request from buyers.
And these arrangements are overseen by a Correctional Industry Advisory Council, with representatives from business and trades, ensuring that deals are fair and don’t disadvantage players in the local economy. The objective is to enhance the capacity of local firms, not to damage them.  There is currently only one outside buyer of prison products.
And of course, materials and consumables are all bought in the NT.
The other important objective is training prisoners in a range of skills they will need upon release, and so to make them less likely to re-offend.
There are work programs, including “Sentenced to a Job”,  inside and out of the gaol.
Prisoners in “Sentenced to a Job” are paid award wages and are paying the government $25 a day board.
There have been significant results, with the recidivist rates amongst participants in the programs dropping from the usual 55% to anecdotally below 20%, in round figures.
The Alice gaol was built for 400 people, but today holds 602, 90% of them Aboriginal. They cost the taxpayer $197 a day each. One-third are on remand, waiting to be tried. One-fifth are locked up for driving offences.
The prisoners are looked after by 186 staff. The community of nearly 700 is the size of a small town. And the atmosphere is highly conducive for learning and developing constructive habits: everyone is well slept, well fed, sober and on time.
p2157-prison-metalMr Yan and Mr Cross showed the media visitors that the mainstream economy has little to fear: men in the metal workshop, soon to move into a brand-new 600 square metre shed and offices, today were making a ramp for the Riding for the Disabled charity.
Next-door vehicle number plates were being pressed.
In the mechanical workshop two old cars were being restored and lawnmowers fixed – all for use inside the prison.
The most significant machine in the woodwork shed is a jig for making roof trusses – not kitchens, as had been rumoured.
After a brief use in the prison the jig was transferred to the construction company Sitzlers where it lay idle for some years.
Sitzlers donated it back to the prison where it is now being used in trial fabrication in the low security “cottage” complex, housing 140.
Soon it will provide trusses for the local market far cheaper than they are now being imported from Adelaide.
Why? The timber still needs to be imported from “south” but the freight is much lower than for the manufactured item.
Women prisoners, learn skills ranging from mending clothing, sewing sheets and making scrunchies.


  1. I wonder if the authorities out there have any idea of the stick they are about to cop for teaching the boys trades and the girls how to sew and make scrunchies. I might be wrong, but it sort of sounds like high school in the 50s.

  2. Where the hell does Mr Cross believe that these prisoners will get a job once they leave the prison?
    Not having an effect on local business – that is rubbish. He well knows it.
    As far as I am concerned this is slave labour, something that we have been berating Chinese suppliers for years over.
    I have been a long term supporter of the CLP, but never ever again. Shame CLP – Shame.

  3. The comments of Another Observer, Hal Duell and Stand Tall are the most negative I believe I have ever read in your great newspaper.
    If one prisoner walks out of the prison with new skills, feeling better motivated, having a better work ethic, standing a little taller and more confident in their abilities, and able to gain a job because of this training and learning, what a great achievement for all.
    Congratulations to the instigators and trainers of this project.

  4. @Tut Tut – you have got to be kidding.
    Obviously you have never stumped up your hard earned to fund an enterprise only to have some do bloody gooder public servant decide that nope, you don’t have a viable business because we are going to get slave labour to do the job.
    Where the hell do you think tax dollars come from – not from public servants, and certainly not from prisoners.
    I’m all for rehabilitation and training, but not at the expense of private industry.
    Think of the disappointment when these prisoners, upon their release, realise that the only place that they are able to get a job is back in prison and why – because the public servants have seen off all of the businesses that could have employed them.
    The amount of either tax payer funded programs or not for profit groups out there competing with private industry is shameful. Perhaps it is time that we all applied for jobs in the public service and that wonderful money tree that they have in Canberra can keep the begging bowl that is the NT full.

  5. @Tut Tut
    Posted October 17, 2014 at 10:22 am
    Nothing negative about pointing out the disparity in the male and female programs. I’m all for providing skills, and if the prisons can do it, fine. As it says in the article, “the atmosphere is highly conducive for learning and developing constructive habits: everyone is well slept, well fed, sober and on time”.
    But how about a bit of gender parity? Or are you saying the scrunchie industry is so short of skilled labour that it’s waiting for the influx of new female personnel soon to be provided by the NT correctional system to enable it to reach new heights in innovation and production?
    Here’s an idea. Go to most building sites these days, and you will see men and women working as tradies side by side. If it’s impossible to mix men and women while both are in prison, then how about opening the schools at different hours to give both a chance to learn a useful trade?
    “Negative” be buggered. Pull your head in, Tut Tut.

  6. The effort by Corrections Minister Elferink, to get some prisoners skilled up or “work ready” while they are in gaol, deserves support.
    Another Observer (Posted October 17, 2014 at 6:36 am) asks, “Where the hell does Mr Cross believe that these prisoners will get a job once they leave the prison?”
    Well, for a start, most of these prisoners are able bodied, working age but unskilled or non-“work ready” men from remote communities. They will usually return to live with their families in the communities after their releases.
    There are quite a few jobs presently being carried out by non-locals in many of those communities. There is a high turnover rate in this non-local workforce, and it is usually difficult to replace them when they resign.
    Remote community employers, and outside contractors, often look for work-ready local residents for un-skilled, semi-skilled and skilled jobs in the communities.
    The Corrections program should help to provide workers willing and able to meet some of those needs.
    Plus, believe it or not, there are some far-sighted employers in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek who try to recruit some of their employees and trainess from the local families, rather than rely fully on workers from interstate or overseas.
    For obvious reasons, it is a worthwhile experiment.
    We should support programs like this, which consider the need to employ more locally born workers, and provide wider, longer term benefits to our region.

  7. Bob. You state that “these prisoners are able bodied, working age but unskilled or non-”work ready” men from remote communities.”
    You seem unaware of how young many Aboriginal people these days are not able bodied at age 30 or younger and almost none over the age 40 age are.
    The ravages of grog, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle take their toll on men in their late 20s and many are diabetic at 30 years of age.
    Many prisoners are alcoholics who will resume drinking on release.
    Even if prisoners do get some skills and can “work” in a structured prison environment they will not be able to do so in their communities. They simply don’t have any internalised work habits and nor do many want to work.
    Very, very few will be employed on release and most employers are well aware of the issues and will not employ them.

  8. I have worked in remote communities and Alice Springs workplaces over many years Joseph (Posted October 18, 2014 at 7:16 pm). I also have quite a few contacts amongst employers in the communities, and amongst the contractors who provide services to them. You might note that I did not state that my observations apply to all prisoners, although you imply that I did.
    You also seem to be ignorant of the average ages of the prisoners when they enter gaol.
    I have been involved in recruiting, training and supervising many ex-prisoners. Having worked for health organisations in both town and bush, I am quite aware of the full range of health statuses of the ex-prisoners. Many who go into prison in a state of poor health come out fit and well.
    The training programs being undertaken in the prison are one necessary step in the process of getting these people to develop “internalised work habits”.
    You sound as though you don’t understand that this does happen in some cases. This is an incredibly important outcome.
    Our society cannot afford to take your defeatist, head in the sand approach to problem solving in this difficult area.
    This type of fatalistic and misinformed attitude, held by people such as yourself, is a key driver causing the attitude of “most employers” being similarly defeatist.
    We should all be on the lookout for those ex-prisoners who want to have a go, and give them a hand to do so.

  9. @ Bob – I don’t want this to be a personal attack on you. I am sure that you are working with the best of intentions.
    However, isn’t it time that we called bullshit on all of these programmes and waste of tax dollars?
    As someone who has stated here publicly that you have worked in the Aboriginal industry for over 30 years – let’s think about what has happened during that time: We have seen the greatest decline in literacy standards, in work “readiness” and the only area that is increasing is in the handout culture. In light of the mess that some Aboriginal people are in, isn’t it time you took your head out of the sand?
    My instinct is that if anyone in the Aboriginal industry actually supports this programme, then it must be a stupid idea. Why? Look at what the “Aboriginal industry” has presided over to date!
    Derailing the private industry sector for another “idea” is irresponsible and borders on being immoral.
    How dare the NTG and Corrections disadvantage private businesses through another program that will have unintended consequences – that being the demise of more businesses in Alice Springs.
    If you cannot see that, then once again, you are part of the problem, not the cure.
    It isn’t bloody rocket science – increase expectations on participation in normal society, get your bloody kids to school, so they have half a chance. Look for a hand up – not another bloody handout.
    Now, if this runs true to form there will be a pile on saying that we need to respect the culture, and that I’m a racist.
    No, I am not – but isn’t it time we as a community stopped accepting that those who have completely destroyed the lives of so many people over the last 30 years, be allowed to continue with their next bright spark moment?
    You cannot help people that don’t want to be helped (this applies to all humans – not just Aboriginal people). The situation as it is, is untenable.
    The cost of Indigenous Health, housing, welfare, programs is not sustainable. In fact in the Oz today, we have the statistic that the latest bright spark job creation scheme has cost $433,000 per job. We would be better off paying all Aboriginal people 60 – 80,000 each per year and letting them sort themselves out. It would sure as hell save us poor bloody taxpayers, a few quid.
    I see this as being up there with parading Aboriginal people through the CDU graduation ceremony where their achievement of Certificate I in Work Readiness – is likened to the person who has achieved their doctorate or master’s degrees.
    How bloody insulting – is that all we think Aboriginal people are capable of – being work ready?
    Extrapolate that to this program, and it is more of the same – can we only expect Aboriginal people to work if they are in a prison setting? Because that is the bloody message that is being sent.
    Quite frankly, I expect more for my investment. I expect parents who receive support for their children, to send their kids to school. I expect public housing to be respected – live how you damn well like, but respect your neighbours, and the property and I expect Government to keep the hell out of private enterprise.
    Just quietly, if I hear the culture excuse just once more I’m going to scream. Have a wine, have a ciggie, but bloody feed your kids and know where they are.
    As someone who grew up with nothing, who had to fight every step of the bloody way, it is insulting to people who are having a go to have more government do-gooder interference.
    There is a backlash in the community against this type of waste, mismanagement and trials that impact on taxpayers and it is time that people took their heads out of the sand and had a real go.
    I’m over the tut tutters and being called a racist because I object to whatever fantasy the “industry” or “government” has dreamt up. Enough is enough.


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