BEHIND the walls and high fences of Acacia Prison in Wooroloo, the inmates at Western Australia’s largest correctional facility are hard at work, learning skills for life and producing quality handiwork for a number of clients.
The medium security prison is currently home to almost 1000 prisoners, with proposed expansions pushing the capacity to 1400.
Being a medium-security prison means the men are able to move about the grounds, participate in vocational training and education, play sport and work on fitness in the gym, and work in jobs which can earn them a basic weekly wage to spend on goods at the canteen.
The 20 or so courses run at the vocational training block include welding, boilermaking, warehouse and logistics, bricklaying and asset maintenance, and students have already contributed their services to the new Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre, producing the lanyards, key belts and pouches for Serco security guards.
More than 130 students graduated from the training courses last year.
Several prisoners also undertake university study externally, completing business courses while behind bars.
As the largest prison and the only privately-managed facility in the State, it is easy to see why Serco are keen to provide the male inmates with the skills and trades necessary for rehabilitation.
As well as those studying courses in the training block, prisoners are encouraged to get hands-on with their training and take part in the prison’s booming heavy industries program.
One of the prison’s largest contracts is for wooden bed frames, with industries manager Alan Houston predicting the men produced more than 15,700 for sale last year.
The 40 prisoners work in two shifts and have the capacity to produce up to 150 bed frames a day.
The carpentry team also produce cabinets, lamp posts, tall boys and fish tank stands, and one of the men uses his design skill to turn scrap wood into model trains and tractors.
He even entered a wooden tractor into the Gidgegannup Show and came second to a professional model maker.
The 25 welders and metalwork crew produce high-end ute trays for brand new vehicles, as well as a range of camper trailers.
These creations are made to order, and like many of the items produced by the industries crew, can be custom designed and built for donation or sale.
The metalworkers have produced a number of fire trailers with 600 litre tanks, and donated them to local fire brigades in Chidlow and Wooroloo, and Mr Houston said if further community groups were to contact them, the crew would be happy to oblige.
“We’ve been trying to push our community involvement over the past six to eight months, and we have had a bit to do with local groups and schools in that time,” he said.
The men recently donated about 300 limestone blocks to the Wundowie Primary School for its new playground, as well as the blocks for a name wall at Wooroloo Primary School.
Mr Houston said the program was really about increasing the men’s prospects once they were on the outside.
“We are providing them with high level, transferable skills, as well as catering for a more basic skill set,” he said.
“We want to increase their employability and go from a no to low skill base to a point where they might score a job in the mining or industry sectors.”