Two way street
A Western Australian wheatbelt community is ‘grading the roads of integration’ through an innovative community based work program.
Communities are made of people, not rhetoric. If a community is defined by the strength of connections among the people who live in and around it then the Shire of Dowerin has much to be proud of.
Situated 156 kilometres north east of Perth, the Shire of Dowerin covers 1867 square kilometres, with a resident population of 690.
What makes Dowerin unique is the establishment of the Wheatbelt Workcamp by the Department of Justice just five kilometres from the centre of town.
Officially opened in February 2012, the Wheatbelt Workcamp houses 20 low risk, minimum security prisoners who provide significant services to the town of Dowerin along with the Shires of Kellerberrin, Merredin, Tammin, Wyalkatchem, Goomalling, Wongan Hills and Cunderdin.
Organisations request assistance with conservation, maintenance and construction projects, all of which afford prisoners the opportunity to undertake life and work skills development in an environment that reflects their low risk to the community.
There is no shortage of requests from community groups and the Shire alike.
The work camp is an integral part of the Dowerin Community and is self-contained in terms of its own resources and equipment to deliver services throughout the Wheatbelt.
Shire of Dowerin Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ms Rebecca McCall, said, “The projects undertaken by the work camp are immeasurable in their benefits to our community and you would expect that the skills and esteem gained by the prisoners to be key factors in their successful reintegration back into society.”
The workcamp contributes to the economic development of the community through its purchases of food, vehicle maintenance and other equipment along with the weekly “spends” of the 20 workcamp residents at the local general store.
The Shire of Dowerin currently has three residents of the workcamp working alongside its own employees as unpaid static workers, which in the last year has not only contributed enormously towards the maintenance of the roads and the upkeep of community infrastructure but also provided a saving to ratepayers in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Shires Works Manager, Glen Brigg, said, “Static workers drive our graders, collect our rubbish, trim our trees and patch the roads.”
Some static workers are given the opportunity to undertake paid work with the Shire in the six months prior to their release through the Prisoner Employment Program (PEP).
Currently the Shire has one worker participating in the PEP program, bringing new skill sets to the community whilst being provided with the opportunity to live and work in regional Western Australia.
The ongoing successful engagement between the community and the workcamp is evidenced in those prisoners who have continued to work and live in the Shire.
Currently there are three individuals from the workcamp who have been employed by the Shire of Dowerin post their release, with the Shire going so far as to provide accommodation for these employees.
Strong connections with the local community are vital for the workcamp to succeed.
It is reliant on local groups and the Shire to engage prisoners in meaningful worthwhile work projects to help prisoners re-connect with society through a structured workday in a public setting.
“The community of Dowerin continues to embrace the opportunities offered by the workcamp to better our region - not only does the community acknowledge their part in making a positive difference in the broader community, but in turn have their local amenities, environment and services enhanced,” said Ms McCall.