Offenders wont be fenced in

By Andy Parks

WHEN is a jail not a jail? When it's a 'Diversionary Program Facility', according to Richard Matenga, acting manager of a new facility due to open in Tabulam later this month.

He says the facility is the first of its kind in Australia. Inmates won't be confined by walls and fences and they won't be locked in at night. "If they do leave, it will be a breach of their sentence and they will be sent back before a magistrate," he warned.

Inmates will be referred to as 'trainees' and will be able to undertake a range of training programs in areas such as anger management, domestic violence, numeracy, literacy and life skills.

The centre will be known as Balund-a or 'Bugilmah Burube Wullinge Balund-a' which roughly translates as 'to do well, recover and be educated down by the river' in the local Aboriginal dialect. The centre will focus on Aboriginal offenders who are considered 'low risk' which means no sex offenders and no violent offenders. According to Mr Matenga: "It's for people who may be on parole for an offence who fall off the perch or can't meet their parole conditions."

The $9 million facility is situated on 526 hectares and will operate as a working farm. They have 300 head of cattle and the trainees will be able to gain work experience and undertake a range of traineeships.

It will house up to 40 people and employ approximately 30 staff. Job advertisements will appear in The Northern Star this weekend. Included on the staff will be a number of local elders who will work with young offenders in culturally specific programs.

According to Department of Correction Services spokesman Clarrie Dries, offenders would have to undergo a pre-sentencing report to determine their suitability for the program.

"We hope it will help in reducing the rate of repeat offenders," he said.

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