Prisoners to learn farm skills

Kate MatthewsCountryman

The Gnowangerup Shire Council has welcomed news that a former training centre will be converted into a minimum security work camp for 20 prisoners.

The Gnowangerup agricultural training centre for high school students was shut 18 months ago by the Department of Education due to low enrolments.

Since then the facility, which is located on 570 hectares of land, has been looked after by a caretaker.

Last month the State Government allocated $1.2 million for capital works and recurrent funding of $1.4 million per year in the Budget to convert the facility.

Gnowangerup Shire Council chief executive Aaron Cook said the council’s first preference was for the facility to be retained as a training centre.

“It was a boarding school five years ago, but closed because it needed upgrading and since then it’s been a training facility,” he said.

“The Council wanted to see an economic benefit from the centre and the move by the Department of Corrective Services (DCS) is expected to provide stimulus to the local economy.”

Gnowangerup Shire president Kerry Stone said the community would be consulted about how the work camp would operate.

Local farmer Ken Pech, who is a steering committee member for the training centre, said he was disappointed it would not be reopened for education.

But he said he believed the community would be supportive if reassured by DCS that there would be no adverse issues.

“The community wants to see employment and the area utilised because it’s stood there for 18 months and nothing has happened,” he said.

“It’s been a dreadful waste for education and agriculture.”

The work camp was expected to open by the end of this year and would continue to operate as a working farm where inmates could learn skills including animal husbandry, fence building, farm maintenance, shearing and wool handling.

A spokesman from Corrective Services Minister Terry Redman’s office said produce from the farm would be used to supply other prisons around the State as part of the DCS self-sufficiency program.

“In addition to on-farm activities, Gnowangerup’s proximity to Katanning, Borden, Broomehill, Tambellup, Cranbrook and Jerramungup means the work camp will be able to perform valuable community work in those towns as well,” the spokesman said.

“It will also undertake projects for the Department of Environment and Conservation in the Stirling Range National Park.”

Classrooms and workshops at the centre will be used to train prisoners in metalwork and construction.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails