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South Coast Correctional Centre chaplains help inmates never return to jail

Chaplain Robyn Presdee works with inmates of South Coast Correctional Centre to develop inmates' real potential, manage their emotions and learn life skills. Pictures: Ashleigh Tullis
Chaplain Robyn Presdee works with inmates of South Coast Correctional Centre to develop inmates' real potential, manage their emotions and learn life skills. Pictures: Ashleigh Tullis

Behind the tall walls, barbed wire and locked gates of the region's jail, there's a "family" of staff whose job it is to guard, teach and nurture their charges - as well as to make sure that when they leave, they never come back.

The South Coast Correctional Centre houses about 820 maximum and minimum security male inmates, and employs 340 custodial officers, service and program coordinators, industry overseers and administration staff.

Employees celebrated National Corrections Day on January 17, with the theme 'We are Family'. The day focused on the camaraderie of the staff, who number 25,000 across Australia.

Husband and wife chaplains

Some employees are even related such as Nowra jail's husband and wife chaplains Peter and Robyn Presdee, aged 72 and 64, who provide inmates with a "safehouse within the big house".

Their role is to help develop inmates' real potential, manage their emotions and learn life skills.

Peter Presdee said "our job is to get inmates to think 'I'm not coming back here'."

Peter Presdee said "our job is to get inmates to think 'I'm not coming back here'."

"At the end of the day, we teach them about hope, love and the search for the real meaning in life," Mr Presdee, an ordained Catholic deacon, said.

"Our job is to get inmates to think 'I'm not coming back here'.

"We ask them, 'what are you doing with your time here to make sure you don't come back?'.

"That can be done through religion, personal reflection or lifestyle," Mrs Presdee said.

Mr Presdee joined the prison in 2010 and his wife started working there two years later after after providing spiritual guidance and support at Berrima Correctional Centre.

They work as multi-faith chaplains serving inmates, staff and prison visitors.

"We wouldn't have chosen this career, but it's the perfect role for us," Mrs Presdee said.

"We have the opportunity to be an agent of healing to people, no matter their walk of life."

"We ask them, 'what are you doing with your time here to make sure you don't come back?'.

Peter Presdee

Mrs Presdee said working together allowed the couple to appreciate what the other person's day was like.

"It is a difficult environment to work in," she said.

"We try to help inmates who don't want help or we hear sad news staff have shared with us.

"Working together allows us to share the emotional load."

Governor Mick Reid said the Nowra staff had a challenging job but relied on each other and were a family.

Governor Mick Reid said the Nowra staff had a challenging job but relied on each other and were a family.

Governor Mick Reid said the Nowra staff had a challenging job but relied on each other.

"They turn up and don't know what they will face each day," he said.

"The jail can turn from an easy to volatile environment quickly.

"Staff can respond to a fight, where an inmate is volatile and they use the procedures and their training to minimise the risk.

"The public don't know what happens behind the jail's closed doors and walls."

Mr Reid said the jail was a "closed house" and staff could not share details with their families, but it was important for their work to be recognised.

"Staff have to remain professional," he said.

"That's why the 340 staff members depend on each other. They are part of a secret family."

Behind the wall is the jail's maximum security inmates. There are about 820 maximum and minimum security male prisoners.

Behind the wall is the jail's maximum security inmates. There are about 820 maximum and minimum security male prisoners.

Day in a life of an inmate

The jail houses inmates who will be in there for life down to criminals who are under minimal security.

Maximum security inmates are woken at 8am and are accounted for via a muster.

"Inmates have breakfast, go to work, have lunch then go back to work," Mr Reid said.

"They are sent back to their hosing locations and another muster is carried out.

"By 4pm, they are locked away."

Employees, including governor Mick Reid and chaplains Peter and Robyn Presdee, celebrated National Corrections Day on January 17, with the theme 'We are Family'. The day focused on the camaraderie of the staff.

Employees, including governor Mick Reid and chaplains Peter and Robyn Presdee, celebrated National Corrections Day on January 17, with the theme 'We are Family'. The day focused on the camaraderie of the staff.

The governor said inmates got recreational time in the yard or for a programmed session on a timetabled basis as some cohorts could not mix with each other."

Minimum security inmates, who are housed in a different section of the prison, are allowed out of their cells for 10 hours a day.

"They are mustered at 6am, have breakfast then go to work or a program," Mr Reid said.

"They also have the opportunity to see health professionals such as a doctor or they get medication.

"Then they have activity time. They are locked away by 6pm."

Mr Reid said staff took satisfaction in watching inmates progress through the system and not return to the prison.

"Inmates come in here after doing the wrong thing, they do their time and we hope to not see them come back," he said.

"Our jails are about reducing recidivism.

"That's why we deliver programs and services."

The South Coast Correctional Centre has about 340 staff.

The South Coast Correctional Centre has about 340 staff.

Programs and work

In addition to the chaplain sessions, there is a high-intensity program was for inmates who have two years or less on their sentence.

"It targets offenders who for example have committed domestic violence and break and enter crimes, and are likely to keep rotating through the centre," Mr Reid said.

The yard in the minimum security section of the prison.

The yard in the minimum security section of the prison.

"The program includes counselling, life skills and makes them address their own behaviour."

Mr Reid said improving inmates' education level was another important step to help them rehabilitate.

"Many inmates are not the level of literacy and numeracy they should be, so staff identify their level and help them improve," he said. "There are also arts and crafts programs."

The yard in the minimum security section of the prison.

The yard in the minimum security section of the prison.

Many inmates are assigned work within the prison to reduce boredom, give them a skill and also help the jail be self-sufficient.

"South Coast inmates create breakfast ration packs that are distributed across the state," Mr Reid said. "They packs hundreds of thousands of meals a week.

"There is also an internal laundry and kitchen service.

"Inmates learn skills in cooking, hygiene and food preparation, and also complete a TAFE course, which they can take with them once they leave jail."

There is also a cabinet shop at the centre which makes government furniture.

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This story Behind the bars: Take a look inside the region's prison first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.