As a new flood crisis unfolds in NSW, Goulburn Jail is expanding its inmate workforce, converting demountable classrooms into temporary housing for long-suffering flood victims in the state’s Northern Rivers region.
The work began in April with 45 inmates in Goulburn. Now 60 inmates are to be engaged in completing the urgently needed homes.
More than 4000 houses were left uninhabitable across the Northern Rivers region after the floods in February and March. Some families have been living with friends, couch-surfing, in garages or tents waiting for better options.
The demountables are stripped and refitted to accommodate up to four people. Already 20 homes have been installed at Lismore, 20 more are underway and another 60 are to be built for a total of 100 homes. Corrective Services Industries at Goulburn and Cessnock are completing the homes, which include a kitchen, bathroom, laundry and air-conditioning.
Acting director, external services, Corrective Services Industries, Blake Conwell, said the additional inmates will allow for an extended shift in Goulburn to help ramp up production. He said inmates are learning electrical, plumbing, carpentry and painting skills. The work involved a lot of internal crane lifting, and inmates are learning dogman and crane skills which will give them certification.
Helping out is giving inmates a positive outlook, Mr Conwell said.
“From day one, when we found out we had an opportunity to provide relief for flood victims with housing options, the response has been phenomenal. The inmates have been quite proud to be able to give back to the community given the inmates have been to that area or have family and friends from there. It has been very positive from them,” he said.
“We have been doing extended hours. Their willingness is showing. They have got on board and really assisted us in getting the first 20 buildings out,” he said.
Workers are producing four buildings out of Cessnock and Goulburn jails, Mr Conwell said.
“They are getting through them quite quickly. We can get a building, strip it down, refit it, get all the components in it that make it into a liveable, comfortable house and have that transported within that week. It’s quite exceptional to be honest,” he said.
Each 10 metre by 2.4 metre demountable arrives as a fully-contained locked-up module. Once on site, a crane lifts it from the truck onto its location where it is serviceable from that point forward.
Mr Conwell said Corrective Services Industries focused on inmates’ workplace readiness and integration into the community and was working with big building companies and other construction-related industries interested in employing inmates on their release from jail.
“There are a lot of inmates that do go out after their time in jail and complete employment programs. They have traineeships or are working towards an apprenticeship, and CSI links to an external provider and contractor who take them on,” he said.
“It goes a long way to reduce re-offending because you are giving someone a well-paying job, a bit of purpose, structure, so it has been a very positive thing.”
Goulburn Jail’s furniture workshop, which makes bed bases and kitchens, provides the kitchens for the temporary housing. The jail also has a food services unit, facilities maintenance unit, laundry and two textile units.
The expanded temporary housing project coincides with a recent NSW parliamentary flood inquiry which heard more evidence of government agencies’ slow response to the crisis, and an unfolding new flood crisis in Sydney and surrounds.
The Federal Government has declared the flooding currently hitting NSW a natural disaster, activating emergency funding support for those in need.
Federal Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt said the payments were available for residents affected by the crisis across Sydney, Hawkesbury, Central Coast and the Illawarra.