: Sentenced to a job scheme

Sentenced to a job scheme

Sue Erickson
Northern Territory

The Sentenced to a Job scheme — an initiative of the Country Liberal government — commenced in the Northern Territory last year as part of an overall reform of the prison system. The government is calling on local businesses to employ low-security prisoners and those businesses are eligible for grants to support the scheme. The government encourages local businesses that specialise in food services, laundry, horticulture, mechanical, textiles, upholstery, metal fabrication, number plate production, screen printing, furniture products, construction, maintenance, and packaging and assembly to recruit prisoners while they are serving their sentence. Prisoners who may participate in the scheme are assessed by the Department of Correctional Services and are generally within the last 12 months of their sentence of imprisonment.

Prisoners who perform paid work are paid an award wage, but contribute five per cent of their salaries to support victims of crime, pay rent (in turn, reducing the cost of their incarceration) and pay taxes. The prisoners keep a small amount of money from their salary (around $60 per week), while the rest is held in a trust and released to them on completion of their sentence.

The Northern Territory has the highest rate of reoffending in Australia, and the Sentenced to a Job scheme is intended to reduce rates of recidivism.

Prisoners have the opportunity to develop skills and qualifications and may gainfully return to the workforce after they have served their sentence or may continue being employed with their employer from the scheme. There is a high rate of unemployment with prisoners and, for some, their first job is through the Sentenced to a Job scheme.

The Australian Agricultural Company has confirmed that they will participate in the scheme and employ prisoners to work in the new Darwin abattoir. However, sociologists have expressed concern that any slaughterhouse work could be psychologically damaging and may set back prisoners’ rehabilitation.

Anecdotal evidence has shown that prisoners appreciate the structure of being employed and see employment as an opportunity to save some money; the employment also assists them in obtaining employment after their release. Stakeholders such as the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (‘NAAJA’) and the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission support the scheme. NAAJA has suggested that people who commit minor offences (with a sentence of 3-months imprisonment or less) could be sentenced to a job by a magistrate instead of being sentenced to imprisonment as a type of diversion.

SUE ERICKSON is an Assistant Parliamentary Counsel at the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, Darwin.

(2014) 39(1) AltLJ 140
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