Hearing the word ‘prison’ often conjures up images of Orange is the New Black, Shawshank Redemption and heavily gated facilities with armed guards.
Mannus Correctional Centre does not fit into any of these descriptions, with no gates and a 4000-acre farm where prisoners work to pay off their debt to society.
The minimum security prison, with a capacity to hold 164 inmates, is located 10 kilometres south of Tumbarumba.
The all-male prison has an average of 158 inmates who are employed in industries such as timber processing, farming and administrative duties.
Working six hours a day, five days a week – inmates are paid $44 for the week, with overtime.
Brad Jeffrey, manager of industries, said one of the most popular sections is the pull-down area in timber processing.
“The inmates enjoy the physicality of it and we produce seven or eight trucks a day,” he said. “They earn a base wage, but can also receive a production bonus.
“We have a dozen inmates on the waiting list for this area.”
The jail has a partnership with Hyne Timber and completes 10 per cent of their annual processing.
Mr Jeffrey said the aim of the centre is to ensure that inmates can find work after release.
“We have an orchard that has 23,000 trees and we supply apples to all the correctional centres in NSW,” he said. “We produce two million apples in a year.”
The options to receive Certificate II or III are available, with some inmates even completing university degrees via correspondence in accounting and social work.
Mr Jeffrey said before any business venture is undertaken by the facility, the community is consulted to ensure locals will not be negatively impacted.
Jennifer Peattie, 29, overseer of Farm One at Mannus Correctional Centre, will gather between five to 15 inmates before taking them out to work each day.
“It’s completely different to any normal farming you would do,” she said. “You have security hazards and the fact a lot of the inmates don’t have training.”
Ms Peattie stumbled into the role when she was 27 after a friend of hers suggested that she would suit the job.
“Industries allows me to share my passion for agriculture,” she said. “I grew up in a small community on the north coast with a lot of farms surrounding us.”
Two years later Ms Peattie, despite the challenges, said she finds her occupation extremely rewarding.
“I had one young fellow who had the ambition to do 10 years under 30,” she said.
“I had three or four months I was working with him, upon release he went on to potentially opening his own business in fencing and looking at going into farming. “It's very rewarding to see that you have potentially changed the life of a 25-year-old gentleman who basically thought his life career was going to be in and out of jail.”
When telling people about her job, Ms Peattie finds people will either look shocked or immediately launch into comparisons to Alcatraz.
“You get a lot of prison references from TV shows,” she said.
“When I tell people I take inmates out to work they become intrigued because they don’t realise that they are employed by the prison.”
Ms Peattie said there is no doubt her job can be tough – from working in the heat to dealing with the inmates – but she has found ways to cope.
“We have a supportive network here within Mannus centre that allows us to debrief and have conversations and it allows you to relieve that load,” she said.
“We all have our passions from mountain bike riding to art.
“You have your days where you have a rewarding moment that makes it all worth it, even if they’re few and far between sometimes.”
Inmates at the Mannus Correctional Centre completed more than 8000 hours of community work, including remediation of the Hume and Hovell Walking Track.
This Friday is the second annual National Corrections Day, which aims to thank prison staff for their work.
“It’s really important that people see we aren’t just locking people up,” Ms Peattie said.
“We are working really hard to give them new skills to allow them to move on and do things they wouldn’t normally have done.”
Attorney General and acting Minister for Corrections, Mark Speakman, said it was important the community understood the crucial work done behind the walls of prisons.
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