TAFE NSW is partnering with Macquarie Correctional Centre near Wellington in the state’s Central West to deliver education to inmates that provides job pathways and transforms lives from the inside out.
In a cutting-edge approach to correctional services, Governor Brad Peebles says inmates at the maximum-security facility change their sense of identity through hard work and education by taking part in 12 hours of work and study every weekday.
“TAFE NSW puts a nationally recognised qualification in the hands of inmates who may never have achieved a goal in their life – and that’s very powerful,” Mr Peebles said.
“TAFE NSW qualifications not only give these inmates practical skills for life after prison, but it also gives them a sense of achievement and contributes to their sense of being a whole person.”
There are more than 130 inmates working in engineering, almost 60 inmates creating furniture in the woodwork unit, and around 55 inmates learning hospitality skills in the prison’s kitchen and café.
Inmates also undertake drug and alcohol and anti-violence programs each day or study to gain certificates and qualifications in everything from automotive skills to horticulture.
On weekends, around 120 inmates who study and work in other fields spend their time in a special 10-week ‘inmates teaching inmates’ program learning music and art from other prisoners.
The inmate mentors are studying a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment with TAFE NSW, with more than 100 inmates on the waiting list for the next 10-week intake.
New technology allows inmates to access learning online through the centre’s secure Learning Management System, which means every inmate can learn and study in their rooms.
Inmate John Smith* has been in custody for almost two years and recently completed a Certificate III in Horticulture. His offences will see him incarcerated for more than 10 years, but the course has inspired him to undertake further study and dream about a better future.
“There’s a really therapeutic aspect, working in the gardens – in most maximum-security jails you wouldn’t see green except for the clothing you wear,” he said.
“I’ve been growing vegetables and flowers as well as learning about maintenance, how to plant and maintain trees, and propagation in the greenhouse. It makes me think about what I can do on the outside; about one day starting my own business.
“I think education allows you to open your mind to what you could be. I don’t want to leave here the same as when I came off the streets.”
TAFE NSW horticulture teacher Sarah Cox said teaching the inmates industry skills and providing them with ongoing support from trade-qualified overseers gave them a tangible pathway to employment.
“Many of the inmates left school very young and have never done any formal education beyond a rudimentary high school level. Our TAFE NSW courses really help them to realise their own potential and see a different future for themselves,” Ms Cox said.
“Working in the corrective service business units and gaining a qualification means the inmates will leave with real, practical skills that can lead to job outcomes. The courses also develop really important interpersonal and life skills that will help them start a new life.”
Mr Peebles said evidence suggests that the more we allow inmates to change their identity, the more successful we are in encouraging them not to reoffend.
“Education programs delivered through TAFE NSW are absolutely central in helping inmates to change their sense of self-identity from the criminal to the conventional citizen.”
“The inmates at Macquarie live in communities of 25 with no cells or bars on the doors, which is very unique in Australia and even worldwide.
“Our approach is to keep the inmates safe, help them improve themselves, and ensure they leave here better people.
“Our end goal is to reduce victims of crime. We don’t want to just send criminals back out the doors; we want to effect real and lasting change.”
*Not his real name.
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