Regional prisoners turn their lives around in hopes of finding meaningful employment after prison
In South Australia, the inmate recidivism rate has fallen by more than 10% in six years, meaning fewer men are returning to correctional services within two years of being released from prison.
- Port Lincoln prisoners turn their lives around through agricultural training programs
- The Department of Corrections says it has the lowest recidivism rate in the nation
- Prison staff say they have seen prisoners find meaningful employment
Correctional officers believe that the agricultural programs offered in prisons contribute to the decline in the return of prisoners, some of whom have committed very serious crimes.
On the state’s Eyre Peninsula, Port Lincoln Prison sees many inmates turn their lives around.
Inmate Michael* hopes he will be one of the men released from prison in the future, but so far he says studying farming practices has improved his daily life in prison.
“It makes you feel human again; it makes you feel like you’re worth something again, not just another number,” Michael said.
Michael has slowly progressed from the maximum security level to the low security level, where he is now able to take courses that could prepare him for future employment opportunities.
He said he had plenty of time to reflect on his life before going to prison.
The inmate said working in the prison garden was a stark contrast to his life in maximum security.
“The trap opened every morning on the door; two cold toasts, a carton of half-hot milk, pushed through the trap,” Michael said.
“All of a sudden there’s no more barbed wire, no more officers watching you wherever you go and it was a really weird feeling at first.
“Now I may have the opportunity to graduate. No one in my family has ever graduated before.”
Inmates can study certificates and diplomas in horticulture and farming.
Currently, 16 low-security inmates work at a time in the garden while completing their studies.
Each year, they grow about $50,000 worth of fruits, vegetables and other crops on 5 hectares of farmland.
The prison is also a major local supplier of its own cuisine and the regional town at a fair price.
It sells to gourmet restaurants and has even burst into the flower market.
Prison officer and industries supervisor Julie Lawrie said it was not just the prison garden that was flourishing.
“Some of these guys didn’t really have those skills – some of them never finished school, didn’t even have a car license; some of them were illiterate, so the skills in what ‘they had nothing to do with what we teach here,'” Ms. Lawrie said.
She said that some prisoners who ended up working in the garden often took time to adapt to the new environment.
“Not seeing the outside world for so many years, they become very institutionalized and they are very scared,” she said.
“I love seeing the change and the process in these prisoners and each individual – it can be very rewarding actually.”
Lessons learned from past mistakes
John* may be released from prison this year and said he feels better prepared to reintegrate into society.
“You feel like you’ve let a lot of people down by coming to a place like this, and not just yourself, the people you’ve affected – that’s a lot harder to swallow,” said- he declared.
He said he had made a mistake in his life, but acknowledged that some of his fellow inmates would face additional pressure if they were eventually released from prison.
“For me, I never suffered from drug addiction, but finding a job was difficult for me, I had difficulty with money,” he said.
“I know other people with addictions still struggle to find a job and are more likely to take shortcuts. So I feel like these programs can help someone get a job faster and reduce the stress associated with returning to society.”
Recidivism rates are falling
The South Australian Department of Corrections said the state currently has the lowest recidivism rate in the country, with 39.3% of prisoners returning to corrections within two years of being released from prison.
The national average is 53.1%.
Prison chief executive Paul Oldacre said having a variety of work options in prisons has changed the behavior of inmates.
“Boredom leads to inappropriate prohibited activities, people start looking at what rules they can break and what they can sneak into the prison, and those kinds of organized criminal aspects of life come back,” Ms. Oldacre.
“But when prisoners have meaningful activity and when they have meaningful purpose, it takes their minds off those surrogates and it gives them purpose that there just might be some light at the end of the tunnel.
“Not everyone will be a success story, but if we can continue to have more success stories, then we’re doing our job.”
Former farmer and director of prison industries Grant Shepperd said some prisoners had gone to work at engineering companies, including one that became a supervisor at a large company.
“I had other prisoners who went to work on farms – they learned basic skills here and were able to get permanent or casual jobs once they were released,” Mr Shepperd said.
*Names are changed as a requirement of the Department of Corrections.