Inmates in West Kimberley Regional Prison work to provide food and relief to community’s affected by flooding

Inmates in West Kimberley Regional Prison work to provide food and relief to community’s affected by flooding

Prisoners in the Kimberley have been called in to help provide meals for the growing number of workers rebuilding the flood-ravaged region.

Key points: Inmates at West Kimberley Regional Prison cooked meals for flood victims and emergency workers skills that will help them re-enter society once released

Extensive damage to the Great Northern Highway interrupted freight routes, leaving Derby isolated and accessible only by air.

The town has suffered from food shortages, with displaced flood victims unsure of when they can return home.

While the kitchens at the West Kimberley Regional Prison were already busy, the influx of workers gave inmates a chance to contribute to the rebuild and work on their reintegration into the community.

Superintendent Heather Murchie said the self-contained environment in the prison gave inmates the opportunity to learn life skills.

“Our prison is very unique,” she said.

“It’s the only one in Australia specifically built around Aboriginal prisoners and maintaining their connection back to country and connection to family and community.”

West Kimberley Regional Prison Superintendent Heather Murchie. (ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)

The facility currently holds nearly 200 inmates and is monitored by 150 staff.

Ms Murchie said prisoners were worried about the effects of the flooding and felt disempowered and wanted to support their families.

“By giving back to their communities, they feel that they are contributing and part of the overall rescue effort,” she said.

The ABC cannot identify the inmates, but the head cook, referred to as John, says the inmates want to have a positive impact by preparing the meals.

“[They’ll do] anything to help – the prison helps them,” he said.

“It’s something to give back to the community and help them because the floods destroyed their homes.”

John and his fellow prisoners are concerned about their families affected by the floods and are eager to support them through their cooking.

“It’s pretty bad. People’s houses just went under and they have nowhere to stay,” he said.

The site of the West Kimberley Regional Prison. (ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)

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Life Skills for Prisoners

Growing up in Broome, John said he learned how to cook at a young age and hopes the kitchen experience can help him start a new life outside of prison.

Before the floods, the prison provided meals to the Derby Aboriginal Short Stay Accommodation, as well as for staff and prisoners.

An inmate stirs a vat of bolognaise being cooked in the kitchen of the West Kimberley Regional Prison. (ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)

Ms Murchie said inmates provided emergency packs, frozen meals, toiletries and personal items for emergency workers and the Fitzroy Crossing residents who were airlifted to a shelter in Derby.

“They are amazing and they get these meals out professionally and with a smile on their face,” she said.

Ms Murchie said prisoners were incarcerated as a punishment, not to be punished, and the prison aimed to reduce recidivism.

“We are about contemporary prison practices: To be able to identify the criminogenic needs and to put them on a path to educate, assist and support them to be productive members back in the community,” she said. said.

Prisoners gain experience and become skilled in tasks such as maintenance and cooking, giving them life skills that can take them beyond their prison term, Ms Murchie said.

“Part of our mandate is to protect the community and to help prisoners lead sustainable, positive lives when they leave,” she said.

“These guys are pretty chill and part of that is because of the ethos of the prison and also the environment they’re in and they respond to that environment in a positive way.”

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