WITH a focus on reform and a vast number of activities for inmates to engage in, it’s clear that St Heliers Correctional Centre is a far cry from the sort of images displayed in popular culture.
Since its opening in 1989, following its previous and relatively dubious history as a boys’ school, the Muswellbrook prison has become more and more focused on rehabilitating the residents, of which 98 per cent are now in some form of employment.
Whether it be inside or outside the gates, they have the ability to make a positive impact on the community and develop skills which can help them find a job following their release.
The incredible work of the prison officers also assures everything runs smoothly and it’s clear from witnessing their interactions with the inmates that they enjoy a healthy relationship.
General manager David Mumford was keen to praise his staff and is glad they now have a designated day to receive thanks for all of their efforts.
“Prior to National Corrections Day getting up, there was no actual day recognising the work of correctional officers or people that work in prisons,” he said.
“Correctional officers and correctional staff perform an enormous benefit to the community by assisting inmates to rehabilitate... we would like to release them as better people than when they came into custody.”
That goal is certainly looking on track for most as the prisoners seem to legitimately enjoy their activities, which includes producing enough vegetables to feed 70 per cent of all inmates in New South Wales.
They also get the chance to learn building skills, and are currently constructing the new transportable office blocks for the prison.
They’ve recently completed units that will be shipped to Claymore, Sydney, for accommodation, too.
There is a particular focus on Aboriginal inmates who can become part of The Gundy Program, which see them build housing for indigenous communities, which data shows, are less likely to be vandalised or damaged as a result of the locals knowing it was built by fellow first-nations.
And, perhaps their most touching project is their rehabilitation of race horses, who would otherwise be put down after their retirement.
They settle them from a state of what Mr Mumford describes as “horse ADD”, and relocate them into paddocks where, barring the occasional show, they live the rest of their life out in peace.
Through all these activities, he’s hoping to avoid a system that he calls “the university of correction”, which refers to when rehab isn’t a focal point of a facility all the prisoners leave with is a “masters in crime”.
It’s certainly an amazing set-up that has been produced as St Heliers – and the locals are sure to reap the benefits of the inmates’ newfound purpose in life when they are released.
So, National Corrections Day – on Friday, January 18 – is a good opportunity to acknowledge and thank employees for their dedication and hard work in keeping the community safe.