ABORIGINAL offenders at a correctional centre in Tabulam are getting a second chance at life through TAFE.
The recipe for their success is a partnership between Balund-a correctional centre, North Coast TAFE and Southern Cross High School distance education.
Balund-a houses male and female residents aged between 18 and 35 who are mainly from the Bundjalung nation.
Each week teachers travel to the correctional centre to provide classes on everything from literacy, numeracy, hospitality and tourism.
The hospitality students from Balund-a had the chance to show off their kitchen skills in a real restaurant at Wollongbar TAFE yesterday.
"It's important they see TAFE and know what it is like so they can feel comfortable about coming back here once they get out," TAFE programs co-ordinator Janine Laki said.
Bundjalung man Aaron Henderson is completing a Certificate Two in Hospitality through TAFE and hopes to open his own catering van.
"I've always been involved in hospitality and tourism but I never got into the cooking side of it. So this was a really good chance for me while I'm at Balund-a to pursue that and have a taste of a different career," Mr Henderson said.
Offenders can be sent to Balund-a after conviction or they can be sent there on bail before the magistrate decides upon a sentence
The aim is to try to keep Aboriginal people out of jail, because more than one in five inmates in NSW are of Aboriginal descent.
Ms Laki said the skills learnt at Balund-a are taken into account when offenders reappear for sentencing.
She said education can help people transform their lives, even if they have been on the wrong side of the criminal justice system.
"They're often intelligent and capable people who did not fit into the education system.
"Going back and re-engaging with education is a way for them to plan a future for themselves which doesn't involve going to jail."
Chef and cookery teacher Ian West said he's seen great results since he began teaching cooking at Balund-a 18 months ago.
"We have had students that have finished at Balund-a who have gone on to complete Certificate Two or Three in hospitality and with those qualifications they can take them on to an apprenticeship and work further in the industry."