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Offenders learning core skills to get a second bite of the apple

Issued: Friday 9 June 2017

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Inmates and Corrective Services NSW staff have picked around 1.8 million apples this year at a correctional centre in the state’s south, as the harvest season draws to a close.

There are 22,000 trees planted at Mannus Correctional Centre, near Tumbarumba, producing Granny Smith, Gala and Braeburn apples as well as providing inmates with the opportunity to gain horticulture skills.

Corrective Services NSW Operations Manager Anthony Shore and Overseer Bryan Haenig lead a group of 24 minimum-security inmates in the orchard program.

“The inmates learn tractor operations, logistics and warehousing, pruning, irrigation, fertilising and fruit handling with the possibility of attaining trade certificates in horticulture and chemical certification,” Mr Shore says.

“Each inmate works eight hours and picks around 8,000 apples each day during the harvest season.

“Inmates generally seek out employment within correctional centres that is of interest to them so the skills they acquire can be useful upon release, which helps reduce their chances of re-offending.

“They also gain self-confidence to help prepare them for reintegration into the community.”

Apples are harvested once a year, usually from March to June. Following harvest at Mannus Correctional Centre, the apples are transported to the nearby Batlow Cooperative for processing.

The Batlow Cooperative has a storage facility covering five hectares, and most of the processed apples are stored for distribution throughout the year. A-grade apples are sold on the commercial market, B-grade apples are packaged and sent to prisons for consumption by inmates, and lower grade apples are sent for juicing.

“Contrary to popular belief, the main difference between an A and B grade apple is the size, with B grade apples being slightly larger,” Mr Shore says.

“We also take food from the paddock to the plate while also providing vocational training skills with around 55,000 apples sent to NSW prisons per week.”

Mannus Correctional Centre is a minimum-security prison with an inmate population of just over 160. There are around 50 staff at the centre including custodial, industrial, program and administration staff.

Besides the apple orchard, inmates are employed in a number of other industries including afforestation work, livestock (farms) and agricultural activities, horticulture, building maintenance, timber processing and forklift and tractor operations.

Other interesting facts about the apple harvesting:

  • A new orchard was planted two seasons ago by the inmates and staff and this year it produced its first fruit;
  • Current practice around the world is to trellis the trees in order to maximise production. The branches are trained along a series of wires, which help support the tree when the fruit starts growing. Other advantages over traditional methods include increased light, more efficient harvesting, and smarter use of irrigation;
  • A new machine was recently purchased to harvest the crop. Imported from the Netherlands, it’s designed to make harvesting safer for pickers, as well as protecting each apple from bruising, meaning a higher percentage of A-grade apples than ever before;
  • One issue in orchards is birds. Cockatoos destroyed a lot of fruit this season before staff and inmates could ensure the bird netting was in place, but next season it won’t be a problem. The trellises make installation a breeze;
  • At the Batlow Cooperative, each bin of apples is lowered into a pool of water to avoid bruising, allowing them to float up and out; and
  • They are washed before going through a series of grading processes including x-ray and infrared scanning. They are also photographed, to identify any internal or external imperfections before weighing.