'Free-range jail' controversy draws in powerful allies
MEMBERS of the Corindi community have garnered the attention of powerful new allies in their bid to stop a proposal to open what they've dubbed a "free-range jail" in the heart of the small coastal town.
Greens MP David Shoebridge, Page MP Kevin Hogan, Coffs Harbour MP Gurmesh Singh, and Coffs Harbour City councillors Tegan Swan and John Arkan have now all thrown their support behind the action group.
The residents are opposing a plan by multinational justice service provider Serco to run an alcohol and drug correctional centre, Home Strait, for Aboriginal men on bail aged between 18-26 at the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre site.
Chairperson of the group, Michelle Hanson, said residents were concerned the centre located 300m from a public school was the wrong place for the otherwise valuable service.
It's understood the young men would not be those charged with violent offences, but property offences.
"We need this program, but it needs to be somewhere where there are services. There needs to be health facilities, ambulance and police right at hand and not 35 minutes away," Ms Hanson said.
"We don't want a free-range jail in a tiny country town. My concern is if they're going to have 60 people there, there might be 59 prepared to turn their life around.
"We're not trying to label anyone but if you've for example broken into someone's home, you've made bad choices."
Greens MP David Shoebridge met up with more than 350 Corindi residents last week, assuring the crowd they "weren't alone."
"As the story gets out you will get more and more allies around the state who will see a little community and an Aboriginal First Nations group really being held to mercy by one of the largest, multi-national for profit prison providers on the globe - and that's a hell of a story to be told," Mr Shoebridge said.
"You've got a hell of a battle ahead of you. But all of you have come out tonight and this is the kind of action that wins those battles."
The former barrister and Greens Justice spokesperson said he will continue drawing attention to the issue in Parliament.
A motion that the Corindi community was opposed to the plan was passed with only five attendees voting they were instead for the plan.
Among that crowd were councillors Swan and Arkan, who said they will be tabling the group's motion at the next council meeting.
State MP Gurmesh Singh said he, Cr Swan and Page MP Kevin Hogan will hold a meeting with Serco and Yarrawarra managers Gurehlgam to discuss the community's opposition to the proposal.
Mr Singh said he briefed the Minister for Corrections, Anthony Roberts, and his team on the issue in early June.
After news broke out about the proposal, a spokesperson for Serco told the Advocate the plan and its location is not certain, saying there will be community consultation before decisions are made.
Chairperson of Gurehlgam Julie Perkins, whose brother and Garby elder Tony Perkins played a crucial role in the establishment of Yarrawarra, also told The Advocate that she understands the concerns of residents.
She said, however, the not-for-profit organisation is struggling and the proposal would provide the financial backing necessary to keep Yarrawarra open for future generations.
The Gumbaynggirr woman has a background in Justice and said she's particularly passionate about reducing the over-incarceration of Indigenous people in Australia.