Fairbridge program gives Aboriginal men in the justice system a second chance

Rob Jackson has been in and out of prison since he was 19-years-old and at 48, found himself inside for the fifth time.

After applying to join the Fairbridge Bindjareb Program, Mr Jackson said his life has turned around.

Fairbridge, with support from the Australian Government and the Government of Western Australia introduced the Bindjareb Program in 2010, a unique training and employment program for Aboriginal men currently incarcerated.

The program’s designed to provide nationally accredited training while re-engaging Aboriginal men with their cultural roots and their sense of self.

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Mr Jackson was selected for intake 15 in 2016, after proving himself committed to change and rehabilitation.

After successfully completing the training and displaying commitment and leadership qualities, Mr Jackson was invited back as a peer mentor with the intake 16 group.

“The peer mentor role made me re-evaluate what I wanted to do and made me want to set an example for the new group, that you can change your ways,” Mr Jackson said.

With the support of Fairbridge, Mr Jackson was successful in his application for parole and has been offered a full time role with Fairbridge as group mentor.

“It’s an opportunity I never thought would happen, at first I thought why me and was scared to fail, but Fairbridge have given me so much support that goes beyond the Bindjareb Program,” Mr Jackson said.

“Mistakes I made in life were often done out of grief, the Bindjareb Program and support from Fairbridge has taught me how to deal with these issues and not revert to my old ways.

“I now have a place to live, secure income, and am able to set a positive example for my kids and future Bindjareb men.

“I’m settled and have stability in my life”.

The Bindjareb Project was established from the initial seed of an idea from Aboriginal elder John Alexander who at that time had retired from a national management role in the mining services industry and had joined the Fairbridge Board of governors.

Through collaboration between the Department of Justice, BIS Industries, and Fairbridge Western Australia Inc. the project began, and it’s continued success is supported the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Westrac, Caltex, and many other industry partnerships.

The Fairbridge Bindjareb Program exists to provide Aboriginal people currently engaged in the criminal justice system the ability to be employed and provided with industry training in a supportive environment that leads to real guaranteed jobs and real careers in the mining and related industries, in a way that leads to positive sustainable change in their lives and the lives of their families.

Since it began in 2010, 143 aboriginal men have been involved in the initiative, with an 85 per cent success rate and 55 per cent gaining and maintaining continuous employment for more than 26 weeks.

Program data shows that only 18 per cent of the Project’s participants returned to prison within two years of being released, and that of those, the most (14 per cent) were returned as a result of Cancellation of Early Release Order following a breach of their parole conditions, with only 4 per cent for new offences.

This is a marked improvement when compared to the aboriginal average in WA of 60 per cent.