An unconventional prison that’s been a haven for First Nations people in the far western New South Wales town of Brewarrina is set to close mid-2020 despite its success.

Established in 2000 to address First Nations incarceration rates, the Yetta Dhinnakkal Centre – meaning “right pathway” in Ngemba language – was the first prison in Australia built primarily for young Indigenous men.

The decision to close the facility has come as part of the NSW Government Department of Justice and Communities’ Better Prisons plan – which will see seven correctional centres retired or repurposed by the end of next year.

Corrective Services NSW bought what was originally a 10,553-hectare remote cattle station and repurposed it into a low-security, working farming property maintained by inmates under staff supervision.

The Centre focuses mainly on first time offenders and features a range of educational opportunities including construction, horticulture, welding, literacy and numeracy.

Programs addressing issues of substance abuse, anger management and domestic violence are also available, with inmates having access to cultural care and guidance from Elders.

However, due to its remote location and high cost – equivalent to running a super-maximum-security facility – Yetta Dhinnakkal is set to close in the middle of next year.

This has resulted in anger from the Brewarrina community, with many pleading for the NSW Government to reassess the decision.

A spokesperson from Corrective Services NSW told NIT the NSW Government chose to “retire the facility to improve the quality, safety and operational efficiencies of its corrections infrastructure.”

“Due to the isolation of Brewarrina it is challenging to transfer inmates to the Centre as they must meet the necessary security classification and pass a health assessment to ensure they can be placed safely in the area,” the spokesperson said.

Low levels of visitation were also identified as a factor considered in the Centre’s closure.

“Contact with family and friends is an important part of an inmate’s rehabilitation, yet inmates at Brewarrina on average receive less than three visits per year, compared to the State average of 15.5 visits per year,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said Corrective Services NSW had been in consultation with the Brewarrina Shire Council, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and will work with local community to consider options for repurposing the facility.

The Corrective Services NSW spokesperson said the decision to close the facility in no way reflects on Yetta Dhinnakkal’s program and that it will continue to be available at a different location.

Other centres to be retired in 2020 include Berrima, Grafton and Ivanhoe Correctional Centres and Illawarra Reintegration Centre.

Emu Plains and Kariong Correctional Centres are to be repurposed by the end of 2020.

By Hannah Cross