THE staff of Mount Gambier Prison are taking altruistic steps to help the less fortunate as well as fostering a sense of community within the correctional facility.
In what is believed to be first in Australia, the staff are donating their work boots they no longer need to welfare agencies for distribution to disadvantaged people.
It is a hoped the project will also help build a culture inside the walls of the prison by demonstrating community spirit to inmates.
The initiative comes as the prison – which is operated by G4S Custodial Services – is working to reduce prisoner return rates.
Already, the prison is seeing a drop in offenders returning to the correctional facility by building a sense of community connection and offering post-release support.
Prison general manager Michelle Price said the facility understood the importance of rehabilitation and the need to foster community connectivity.
“That sense of community spirit has to start with us, we have to be the catalyst for that,” Ms Price told The Border Watch.
“I am really keen to develop a relationship with the community sector. This is important – the prison can make a difference in the community.
“This clearly impacts on prisoners as well.”
Explaining the staff fully supported the boots initiative, she said dozens of footwear had already been handed over to regional welfare agencies.
“The staff feel they are making a difference.”
Ms Price – who explained G4S were regularly given new boots as part of their employment – said the prison’s relationship with Lifeline was “exemplary” in terms of good practice.
She said rehabilitation was a high priority for the facility, which meant staff had to be engaging with inmates.
“While people may have committed a crime, they are still people. If it is about getting them back into the community, you have to do things that enable them to do that,” the prison executive said.
“It can’t just be a turn-key operation. The staff group has that culture about them in terms of engaging with prisoners.
“Everybody can make a difference and every contact counts.”
Ms Price said the prison was working with former inmates post their release to lessen the number of re-offenders.
“If we do have people return, we speak to them about what has influenced them to do that.”
Meanwhile, Ms Price praised Lifeline South East chief executive officer Eve Barratt for facilitating the boots program.
In the first round of the initiative, the prison gave 10 pairs and there was now a similar number waiting to be handed over.
“Throughout the year, we could get up to 50 or 60 boots, which should make a difference people’s lives,” she said.
She said they were leather and good quality boots that would be ideal for winter.
The facility is also exploring the possibility of donating staff uniforms if the logos could be removed.
Meanwhile, Ms Barratt described the boots donations as a “pay it forward” initiative.
She said the boots were initially brought to Lifeline before being distributed by Combined Agencies Network, which represents all the agencies who interact with people struggling with homelessness or from low socio-economic circumstances.
“They are all very excited about the idea because they know that during our winter, sturdy footwear particularly for men, is so important,” Ms Barratt said.
“They really are sturdy, good quality boots.”
Importantly, she said the initiative was demonstrating the importance of the prison linking with the community.
“Like I say, if we have a prison here, let’s make it the best prison in the state.”
Mount Gambier Prison has already received national recognition for its “The Listeners” program, which is saving lives through the suicide prevention initiative with the help from Lifeline South East.