Weld Australia recently appeared on Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) – The Drum. Geoff Crittenden (CEO) and Michael Pitt (National Manager Education & Training) spoke about the success of VET programs for prisoner rehabilitation at HM Langi Kal Kal Prison.
HM Langi Kal Kal Prison Hosts Welding Employment Expo
Australia’s prison population continues to grow at a rate that is four times that of the general population. According to the most recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, from 30 June 2020 to 30 June 2021, the total number of Australian prisoners increased by 5% to 42,970.
Australia’s imprisonment rate also increased by 5% from 205 to 214 prisoners per 100,000 adult population. This rate well exceeds that found across countless nations, from Scandinavia, Western Europe, Canada and the United Kingdom, through to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, China and New Zealand.
As at 30 June 2021, the median age was 35.6 years for all prisoners. When comparing the prison population to the general adult population, prisoners are much younger—2 in 3 (65%) prisoners were under 40, compared with about 2 in 5 (40%) in the general adult population.
And, possibly most concerning, once prisoners enter the correctional system, finding their way out can be tough. The Australian Bureau of Statistics latest report showed that prisoners with prior adult imprisonment increased by 5% from 30 June 2020 to 30 June 2021.
All these statistics paint a clear picture: our prison population is rapidly expanding, and is increasingly comprised of younger people and reoffenders. This gives rise to the need for practical rehabilitation and vocational education and training (VET) programs that can help alleviate recidivism.
Rehabilitation and Training Programs
Many prisoners have education and skill levels well below the Australian average. Almost 2 in 3 (63%) prisoners have an education level of Year 8 or below.
The introduction of VET programs as part of prisoner rehabilitation offers opportunities for prisoners to reduce this disadvantage, increasing the likelihood of successful re-integration into the community and reducing the risk of reoffending.
A recent study confirmed that participation in VET whilst incarcerated helps prisoners to remain custody free post-release. In fact, prisoners who successfully completed VET were 59.96% more likely to remain custody free at two years post-release; and 78.23% more likely to remain custody free at five years post-release.
VET and rehabilitative efforts are generally successful in reducing recidivism. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that without rehabilitation, sanctions and incarceration alone may result in increased rates of reoffending.
VET Centre of Excellence in Welding at HM Prison Langi Kal Kal
Given the proven success of VET programs for prisoner rehabilitation, in 2022, Corrections Victoria expanded the VET Centre of Excellence model to deliver Fusion Welding to ISO 9606 certification standard to complement their Metal Fabrication industry at Langi Kal Kal Prison. Federation University delivers the training program with the support of Weld Australia and on-site prison industry staff.
As part of the program, augmented reality training was introduced to expand the welding skills of the prisoner learners to meet international standards. A welding workshop sits alongside the augmented reality training room so that participants can work on projects to use and practice their welding skills in the physical as well as virtual environments.
To participate in the program, prisoners are invited to submit an Expression of Interest and then selected through an interview process. Up to eight participants can be accommodated in the intensive 14-week program.
According to Andrew Glisson (Teacher, Federation TAFE), “The students all demonstrate potential and are showing excellent aptitude and skill development as we move forward through the course.”
“It has been enjoyable watching the students have ‘light bulb’ moments in their own personal skill development. It has also been rewarding to see a student develop confidence when they discover they are capable of more than they thought.”
Student *Daine said, “I wanted to take part in this course to not only further my knowledge and experience of welding but to be able to give myself the ability to provide a positive, reliable, and sustainable future for my family.”
“When I am released, I am keen to find as much work as possible in the engineering trade working in the railways, or similar areas that require good welders. I don’t see my life revolving around prison and I want to have real work opportunities in the community when I’m released.”
*Name changed to maintain privacy.
Gaining and Maintaining Employment
The ability to gain and maintain employment post-release is equally as important as training when it comes to the successful reintegration of former prisoners into the community. And yet, few ex-prisoners are able to find meaningful work.
Prisoners often come from a socio-economic group that already faces difficulties in gaining employment. They generally have high levels of drug and alcohol misuse, high levels of mental health issues, and poor work histories. Imprisonment adds to this mix, making it even more difficult for prisoners to find a job.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare fewer than 1 in 4 (22%) of former prisoners national wide report that they have paid employment organised to start within two weeks of release from prison. This can also be exacerbated at times by parole conditions that make full-time employment more difficult to manage.
The VET Centre of Excellence model links participating prisoners with prospective employers and pre- and post-release support service providers. These connections provide prisoners with sustainable pathways to employment and support to reintegrate to society post-release.
In conjunction with Weld Australia, Langi Kal Kal Prison recently hosted a Welding Employment Expo to help facilitate connections between prisoners and prospective employees. The Expo was attended by several Weld Australia members, including Jeff Wanliss (Engineering and Business Development Manager, Keppel Prince). Based in Portland, Victoria, Keppel Prince specialises in the construction, fabrication and maintenance of industrial structures and equipment, ranging from wind farms to bridges.
“I didn’t really know what to expect from the Employment Expo, but the experience was a big eye-opener for me. I was very impressed by the facilities at Langi Kal Kal. The equipment is excellent and in line with industry standards, which helps ensure the prisoners are prepared to walk into any workshop—they’ll be comfortable from day one,” said Wanliss.
“The level of instruction was top class. The welding supervisor was equipped with a wealth of knowledge and experience, having previous experience as a boilermaker. The level of passion from all the correctional officers was clear. They’re all dedicated to working with the prisoners, bringing out the best in them, and giving them a solid grounding in the skills needed for life.”
“During the tour of the facilities, one of the prisoners produced an industry standard vertical up weld—one of the hardest welds to do. We would have accepted that weld in our workshop.
It can be difficult to find potential employees with the skills and experience needed in our workshop. I’d definitely consider employing any of the guys based on the standard of welding they’re doing.”
“These types of training and rehabilitation programs are so important. They help give prisoners purpose. Many of the prisoners have obviously faced challenges in the past, but, this is a delineation point—it’s like drawing a line in the sand and saying ‘the past is the past’. VET and training programs like this one equip prisoners with knowledge and give them practical skills that they can use on release. It is an essential step to ensuring that their future is successful,” said Wanliss.
A Successful Future
Australia is facing a looming shortage of skilled welders—70,000 additional welders will be needed in the next 10 years. Welders are more in demand than ever with several large-scale, high-value projects on the horizon, from the Federal Government’s $90 billion Naval Shipbuilding Program, through to major infrastructure projects such as the $16 billion WestConnex project, $12 billion Sydney Metro project, and the $11 billion Melbourne Metro Tunnel.
VET training and employment pathways as part of prisoner rehabilitation could help alleviate some of these skills shortages.
However, this will require commitment and collaboration from industry and government—not only to fund VET training in Australia’s prisoners—but to help provide secure employment opportunities post-release.
About Langi Kal Kal Prison
The land where Langi Kal Kal Prison is located was first settled as a 70,000-acre farming property in about 1838. A substantial farmhouse was built in approximately 1900. After World War II, the land was subdivided and the central area, including the farmhouse, was set aside for prison purposes. The first prisoners arrived in September 1950 and the prison was officially opened in February 1951. In 1965 the prison became a youth training centre, but again became an adult prison in June 1993.
Situated on the Western Highway at Trawalla approximately 140km west of Melbourne, Langi Kal Kal is an open camp, minimum security protection prison with all prisoners required to work during their stay unless they are over retirement age. As a pre-release prison, Langi Kal Kal specialises in getting prisoners ready for release through on-the job training and employment in a range of industries.