Jail Jobs


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Berrimah Prison in Darwin is not witnessing a mass break out... believe it or not these serving convicts are being allowed to leave, trusted to behave and sent off to work in businesses across Darwin.

In the top end there's no such thing as a free lunch even for prison inmates. Every person sentenced to jail in a Northern Territory court has to work.

High and medium security prisoners will work in the jails but minimum security are expected to get a paying job in the community then pay their own way in jail.

Northern Territory Attorney general and Corrections Minister John Elfrink is the mastermind behind "sentenced to a job".

'Most of the prisoners in my system we're either drunks, stupid or more often than not, drunk and stupid at the time of offending... so what we have done is take this prisoner group which is highly compliant and said 'get a job'," says John.

Every prisoner in this minimum security section will have to have a job. It's home to 300 men who all pay $125 per week for their cell.

For their money they get a single bunk room with desk and if they want a TV or radio, they pay for it. There's no free Foxtel, no free Wi-fi and no smoking either.

Peter Mellor oversees minimum security and sends his prisoners off to work.

"It's zero tolerance down here. I they refuse to work or don't do as they're instructed whilst on the job, they get sent back and straight over to the main jail... We're building self esteem and a person with self esteem and a work ethic won't come to jail," says Peter.

But if they work, they can get out, around the clock. Everyday prisoners have full paying jobs in private firms. People like Chris and Joel who work in a powder coating factory.

Joel has been in and out of jail since he was a kid. Now he earns nearly a thousand dollars a week, pays rent for his cell and has his savings held in trust until he finishes prison in 4 weeks.

"I've been in and out and in and out but this time getting a job and getting out from jail with a job, makes it easier to turn over a new leaf, it makes me feel like I want to change," says Joel.

One third of Craig McGlew's staff are now prisoners.

"We were having trouble having a workforce that turned up every day and the idea was these guys would probably turn up every day so it was worth a shot... so it's working perfect so far," explains Craig.

Prison employment officer Jodie Casey is being deluged by companies wanting prison labour... but they're not cheaper.

"One of the requirements is that it's a minimum award wage so all the fair work rules and regulations still apply to prisoner employment as well," says Jodie.

And while prisoners wait for full time paying jobs, they're recruited into work crews and sent out to help pensioners and the disabled.

One hundred and twenty homes, gardens and parks are all maintained by prisoners with more than 1000 more on waiting list for jail crews working for their keep.

How much will this program save the Territory?

"I don't think it has saved me a whole lot yet but I reckon it will save the community a bucket-load of money in the future," says John.

Tony spent three years inside but has now become the poster boy for the "sentenced to a job" program. At 32 he's now applying for a full-time job as an apprentice electrician and hopes someone will employ him.

"I know now what is right and wrong. Look, I did make mistakes and I'm the first to put my hand up about that but I really want to make the most of my new life and move forward," says Tony.

Across town, prisoners who had never seen the inside of a kitchen are now preparing food for mass sale.

"So they might start in the scullery working washing dishes and so on. They then move up to food prep. I guess you would call it a production kitchen where they make mass quantities of food we on-sell to other outlets around the city," says their supervisor John Leeder.

Berrimah jail was famous for once housing Lindy Chamberlain... now it's famous in the top end for letting it's inmates, out, to work. Those without jobs still have to attend training programs or community work so effectively it's carrot and stick, working hand in hand.

"We've got to normalise these people and say, 'guys you're normal people', you've done the wrong thing, you're in the slammer, now you have to work your way out of the slammer and we'll be happy to help you do the right thing but my God, if you are not with the program, your life in custody in the Northern Territory is not going to be a pleasant experience," says John.