Prisoners take lead in landmark conservation project

Two groups of prisoners have embarked on an ambitious land conservation project in the Greater Geraldton region.  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.

Acting Assistant Superintendent Offender Services Dean Parisse said one group of men and one group of women from the prison had just begun the 20 week campaign to address some of the region’s key biodiversity issues, with particular emphasis on the restoration of traditional lands.

Work sites have been chosen in consultation with project partner Durack Institute of Technology, and articulate with the Certificate II in Conservation and Land Management course, which will involve supervised prisoners undertaking weed mapping and removal, seed collection, native plant propagation, dune restoration, fencing and revegetation as well as some heritage training.

The course is open to men and women from the Greenough prison but participants must be minimum-security and meet several assessment criteria to be approved for the supervised community work, allowable under section 95 of the Prisons Act 1981.

The project is primarily a partnership between the Department of Corrective Services (Greenough Regional Prison), Durack Institute of Technology and Northern Agricultural Catchments Council (NACC), and was approved for a Commonwealth Government Caring for our Country grant because of its benefits to Aboriginal people, the environment and society.

Greg Burrows, Indigenous Facilitator for the Northern Agricultural Catchments Council (NACC), a not-for-profit organisation which supports sustainable projects said that “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 was “a degree of trepidation” when the project was first piloted in 2013 but “repeated success has grown confidence in the scheme.”

Assistant Superintendent Dean Parisse said the prison had grabbed the opportunity to improve the chances of prisoners finding employment upon release.  “It’s well known that employment upon release has a major impact on whether a prisoner returns to the system. This project has some clear benefits for all of us,” he said.

Dean said six women and eight men successfully completed the pilot course with Durack Institute of Technology recently. There were also two who were unable to finish because they were released, however they had completed a number of units which are recognised throughout Australia.

Durack Institute of Technology Conservation and Land Management Lecturer, Mark Douglas commented that “When a new group starts their training at the Batavia Coast Maritime Institute campus of Durack Institute, they are unsure of what to expect, but by the end of their course, they have gained some of the skills and confidence they need to settle back into the community. It is great to not only be helping out the local environment, but also to help guide the participants into a possible new career pathway,” he said. A number of participants are keen to continue their Conservation and Land Management studies into Certificate III, IV and possibly Diploma.

In a related project, Greenough Regional prison continues to assist not-for-profit bushland regeneration organisation Men of the Trees with seedling propagation.  Nursery Manager Irene Ghannage said the assistance from both Greenough Regional Prison and the Geraldton Adult Community Corrections Centre has been a huge boost for the organisation.

“The purpose of the prison nursery is to provide seedlings native to the region to the community for the purpose of revegetation and rehabilitation of degraded bushland, street plantings, farms and gardens,” Irene said. The plants provided through Men of the Trees 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.