Former prisoners to get ‘second chance’ with jobs on major Victorian infrastructure projects


September 11, 2019 15:12:08

When Saute Sapolu was released from prison three years ago he could not find work and struggled to provide for his family.

Key points:

  • A pilot program will employ 50 former prisoners on major projects in a bid to reduce reoffending
  • The $300,000 project is expected to save millions of dollars in corrections costs
  • Corrections Minister Ben Carroll said jobs will only be open to first-time inmates under 26 years of age

“I had no employment, I was almost on the verge of reoffending again,” he told the ABC.

It was not until he started working with the YMCA and mentoring other young men leaving jail, that he found purpose and self-worth again.

“You don’t have to worry about how or when the next meal [is coming], or how are you going to pay the bills,” Mr Sapolu said.

“It gives you the confidence and sort of that purpose in life to be able to keep going on.”

Mr Sapolu’s offending began in regional Victoria when he started hanging out with the “wrong crowd”.

It soon escalated and when he was 21 he was jailed for nearly two years for armed robbery.

“I definitely made some bad decisions. And I’m not proud of them,” he said.

Now with a job, Mr Sapolu is optimistic about the future.

It is this change in outlook that the Victorian Government wants to replicate with more ex-prisoners.

‘Live a life of purpose’

Over the next 12 months, 50 young men who have been in jail will work on major projects, including the Melbourne Metro project.

The pilot program has the blessing of major infrastructure firms.

“This is not easy, but we want to give them a chance, give them a second chance and see if they can make something of their life and go on and live a life of purpose,” Corrections Minister Ben Carroll said.

“We want to change the narrative, but we also want to change the trajectory of some of these young people’s lives. We can’t keep doing things the way we have been doing.”

The project will cost $300,000 and save taxpayers millions of dollars.

Adult prisoners cost $170,000 each per year, and that cost jumps to nearly half a million dollars for every youth inmate.

In Victoria, the adult recidivism rate is expected to reach 43 per cent in 2018-19.

According to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a third of young people in the youth justice system in the eight years to 2018 returned — the second-lowest recidivism rate in Australia.

Of the young people sentenced in 2016-17, 44 per cent of them reoffended within one year.

The recidivism rate has jumped significantly in the past decade as a push for tougher sentences fills up prisons and makes services inside jail harder to access.

Mr Carroll said the pilot program would run over the next 12 months and only first-time inmates aged between 17-26 would qualify — they will need to have done study in prison to qualify.

“We believe all they now need is an opportunity to get their feet on the ground into a job. And we believe that can change the trajectory in life,” Mr Carroll said.

“They would have to have been engaged in one form of education and shown a discipline and a willingness to change themselves to be part of this, essentially game changing opportunity for the life.”

A recent review into youth justice found there needed to be better pathways to work for young parolees to reduce reoffending.










First posted

September 11, 2019 14:54:22

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