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Inmates to turn whistleblowers as referees

Issued: 17 May 2013
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​Inmates are getting set to fill a major country rugby league refereeing gap after completing a new training program behind the walls of Wellington Correctional Centre in the State’s central west.

A group of seven inmates were welcomed into the Rugby League fold today by former great Ron Gibbs along with NRL Game Development Officer Willy Barnes.

Corrective Services NSW Commissioner Peter Severin said the unique program was developed by a former NRL referee turned Correctional Officer and aimed to give inmates a foothold in the game they loved on release from prison, while also providing a service to regional communities.

Mr Severin today congratulated the second group of inmates to complete the refereeing course since its inception last year.

"This program is a winner for Corrective Services NSW, the inmates and the Community," Mr Severin said.

"Most of all, I applaud the innovative thinking and foresight of Correctional Officer Tom Peet who has invested so much of his time and skill to turn this promising concept into reality.

"Mr Peet saw the passion many inmates had for the game and thought that could be utilised to increase their skills, fitness and wellbeing, and as a useful management tool in the Centre."

Inmates today received their Level 1 RIT (Referee in Training) certificates in rugby league refereeing, enabling them to officiate Mini/Mod games under supervision and to touch judge District and Group senior competitions.

Indigenous former NRL player Ron Gibbs attended today’s graduation showing support for the inmates and the program.

Mr Barnes conducted a video training session with the inmates before an on-field skills training session. Throughout the course they trained using whistles and flags to perfect signals and presentation and received workbooks and rulebooks for after hours study.

Correctional Officer Peet gained the support of the Country Rugby League (CRL) and the Australian Rugby League Referees Association (ARLRA) last year. They recognised that former inmates could help fill a desperate shortage of referees in regional areas.

A total of seven inmates graduated from the first course in August 2012 and one former inmate from that group is now the only referee in a large NSW regional area.

Mr Peet said the course has given inmates a chance to shine once they re-integrate into the community.

"I’ve seen inmates grow in confidence as they gain knowledge and I believe the hands-on guidance they receive creates a learning environment that would be difficult to achieve post
release," Mr Peet said.

"The inmates will not only become qualified in a field they are passionate about but will also be earning cash payments to help them re-establish their lives in the community.

"Even in the off-season, there are numerous opportunities to officiate in touch football competitions.

"These men will make new contacts with a cross section of the community, greatly increasing their opportunities to obtain full time employment.

"I have seen a high level of enthusiasm from the inmates with many others asking when the next course will run – that’s great news."