By 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.
Mr 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.
By ERWIN CHLANDA