A new project in a small country town in Australia is seeking to solve two of the biggest problems facing most modern societies — how to inspire jail inmates to do something useful while in prison and how to help struggling families establish their own homes.

The pilot program has been established at the Junee Correctional Centre in the New South Wales Riverina region where prisoners are about to complete two houses they have built for disadvantaged families in the local area.

The project is part for a growning international movement, Habitat for Humanity, which initiated the project at the Junee Correctional Centre two years ago. Habitat for Humanity was established by Christians in the United States in the 1940s and has since spread around the world, helping to build or repair more than 600,000 houses and serving more than 3 million people.

The Junee Correctional Centre’s Offender Services Manager, Trevor Coles, told local television station, Channel 7, the first family to benefit from the program would be able to take up residence early in the new year. “They’re looking at the 15th of 16th of this month when the occupants will be able to move in,” he said. “The second house is finished and at lock-up stage. It’s ready to be moved, the piers have been all set down, so we’re just waiting for the house movers and we’ll have two on site in the community.”

In addition to the benefits to families, the program has brought about “tremendous changes in the inmates”. “It’s not just about repaying their debt to society, they can do something extra by building this house,” Mr Coles said.

The project is only the latest program to be established in a prison system that is run by minister for correctional services in New South Wales, Attoney General Mr Greg Smith — a right to lifer. Both Mr Smith and his Chief of Staff, Mr Damien Tudehope, are former presidents of the NSW Right to Life Association and have been crusading to defend the dignity of jail inmates, instituting programs to rehabilitate them and give them a fresh start before being released from prison.

William West

William West is a Sydney journalist.