There have been some great conservation outcomes achieved by two groups of prisoners working on an ambitious land conservation project in the Greater Geraldton region.
Dating back to 2013, and primarily a partnership between the Department of Corrective Services through Greenough Regional Prison (DCS), Durack Institute of Technology and the Northern Agricultural Catchments Council (NACC), and funded under a Australian Government National Landcare Programme grant, it brings benefits to the Aboriginal community and local people, the environment and local government and Landcare groups.
The multi-agency collaboration, which delivers accredited Conservation and Land Management training to prisoners from Greenough Regional Prison, is aimed at improving the local environment as well as prisoner education and employability, particularly among Aboriginal prisoners.
Dennis Gilleland, Greenough Regional Prison Assistant Superintendent Offender Services, said the Department’s involvement in providing targeted courses for Aboriginal prisoners demonstrated its commitment to reducing the rate of Aboriginal incarceration and breaking the cycle of reoffending.
Three groups of men and three groups of women from the prison have been involved in the 20 week courses where they have addressed some of the region’s key biodiversity issues, with particular emphasis on the restoration of traditional lands.
Work sites were chosen in consultation with project partner, Durack Institute of Technology, which is helping participants link with the Certificate II in Conservation and Land Management course. This has involved supervising prisoners to undertake weed mapping and removal, seed collection, native plant propagation, dune restoration, fencing and revegetation as well as some heritage training.
Greg Burrows, Aboriginal Program Manager for the Northern Agricultural Catchments Council (NACC), said NACC’s original driver for this project was to increase the number of Aboriginal people working in jobs associated with managing country. He said there has been great support from the main partners, the participants and the community, and a great deal of work has been achieved to benefit the environment that otherwise may not have been done.
Work completed in 2014 was extensive, and included the management of a Weed of National Significance, African Boxthorn, at the Buller River; spraying Lantana at Dolby Creek; rabbit control near the Moresby Ranges; protection of Declared Rare Flora at Eradu; undertaking revegetation at Aboriginal Heritage Sites and Jooldarnoo farm at Nabawa; water erosion and sediment control on the Chapman River with the City of Greater Geraldton and considerable hours in the Geraldton Community nursery; along with work on dune rehabilitation.
Mr Gilleland said this work was an important and necessary part of ensuring a safer community and reducing the cost of crime. It provided reparation to the community and contributed to prisoner rehabilitation by helping them develop employment and life skills geared towards adopting a law-abiding lifestyle when they return to their community.
“The prison supports opportunities to improve prisoners’ chances of finding employment upon their release back into the community,” Mr Gilleland said. “It’s well known that employment upon release has a major impact on whether a prisoner reoffends. This project has some clear benefits for everyone involved.”
The courses are open to minimum-security men and women from the Greenough Regional Prison who are approved to work on selected community projects under section 95 of the Prisons Act 1981.
More than 50 male and female prisoners have successfully completed subjects with Durack Institute of Technology, with the majority completing all of the units required to gain their Certificate.
A number of participants were unable to finish the full qualification because they were released but completed units that are recognised throughout Australia. A number of participants have expressed interest in continuing their Conservation and Land Management studies.
“When a new group starts at the Batavia Coast Maritime Institute we ensure that each individual’s existing skills are fine-tuned and expanded within a land management context,” Durack Institute of Technology Conservation and Land Management Lecturer Volker Stanger said. “This works towards fostering the prisoners’ self-esteem. The prisoners are also introduced to, and work with, various industry partners. This could benefit the prisoners when they are looking for employment as well as providing strong benefits to the community and local environment. The way the course is structured is designed to enable their future integration into the workforce.”
In a related project, Greenough Regional Prison continues to assist local community native revegetation projects by producing seedlings in their propagation nursery.
“The purpose of the prison nursery is to provide native seedlings to the region for the purpose of revegetation and rehabilitation of degraded bushland, street plantings, farms and gardens,” Gardens Manager Colin Wise said. “The plants provided will be used in conservation projects throughout the region.”
Offenders on community work orders also assist in the community nursery owned by the City of Greater Geraldton.