ARARAT’S Hopkins Correctional Centre, formerly HM Ararat Prison, has marked 50 years since its opening.
Victorian Corrections Minister and Western Victoria MP Gayle Tierney toured the prison before a 50th anniversary ceremony within its grounds.
Former prison employees, some of whom started working in Ararat during the 1970s, joined with guests that included Ripon MP Louise Staley and Ararat Rural City mayor Glenda McLean.
Former employee Charlie Hedger, originally from St Arnaud, worked at Ararat Prison from 1971 to 1974 before being transferred to Won Wron prison in Gippsland and Pentridge in Melbourne.
“Hopkins is so modern now, it leaves places like Barwon for dead,” he said.
“We only used to have steel tube manufacturing in prison industries.
“We used to grow all our own vegetables and kill our own meat.”
Ararat Prison started as a medium security facility and had 150 sheep on its attached farm.
Ms Tierney said Hopkins Correctional Centre had made a significant contribution to Ararat’s community during its 50 years of operation.
“We’re here to commemorate the relationship this facility has with the wider Ararat community and the region, particularly through its employment of nearly 400 people.
“This facilities provides for nearly 800 prisoners. With that comes a significant number of custodian officers and non-custodian officers.
“That means that there is significant employment as a result of this facility being located where it is, not far from Ararat.”
Ms Tierney said the relationship between Hopkins Correctional Facility was maintained by a Community Advisory Group that met regularly.
HM Prison Ararat was officially opened on October 27, 1967 by then Victorian Premier Sir Henry Bolte, who was also Ararat’s member of parliament through the seat of Hampden.
Ararat Prison was built as a replacement for the century-old Ballarat Gaol.
Cr McLean said it was good to meet with former prison employees.
"The 50th anniversary celebration was a memorable occasion and it was gratifying to see so many retired prison officer staff from the local community present,” she said.
“Ararat Rural City chief executive, Allan Bawden and I are especially pleased by the attendance of ex-Mayors Bill Jones, Pat McAloon and Gwenda Allgood, who have worked so hard over the years for Corrections and community relationships."
Hopkins Correctional Centre general manager Scott Jacques, who joined the centre three weeks ago after managing Langi Kal Kal Prison at Trawalla, took Ms Tierney on tour of the grounds.
Mr Jacques said the prison’s horticultural centre allowed prisoners to grow flowers, which were donated for Anzac Day wreathes, and vegetables for the centre’s kitchen.
The prison’s Koori Cultural Centre and the Torch program allows Indigenous prisoners to create artwork and raise money to help them get back on their feet after release.
Mr Jacques said an Ararat Torch program participant had designed a massive banner that was being displayed on a skyscraper construction site in Melbourne.
“I’ve come to Hopkins at an exciting time for me and the prison,” Mr Jacques said,
“We continue to strive to move on and develop what we do here, we are striving to be a centre of excellence.
“When you have close to 800 prisoners and a staff group of over 350, it’s a community in itself.
“The daily operation is a 24-hour business so we try to make sure everything we do, minute by minute, is safe and secure for prisoners and staff.”
Ms Tierney was shown the prison industries area of Hopkins, where every licence plate in Victoria is made, and a secure medical facility where hospital beds are contained behind cell doors.
Hopkins prisoners can also further their education through a range of VET programs run by Federation University.
“This centre is a trailblazer when it comes to employment of prisoners,” Ms Tierney said.
“The industries are business units; they provide a working environment similar to any other industrial estate, whether it be in the back of Bannockburn or the northern suburbs of Melbourne.”
“It is all set up so that people can make the transition back into the community.”
Mr Jacques told the 50th anniversary ceremony that a former prison employee and Ararat resident David Ryan had planned to be there.
Tragically, Mr Ryan died earlier this week as a result of car crash on the Midland Highway outside Ballarat.
The ceremony held a minute’s silence in honour of Mr Ryan and other ex-employees who had died.
Corrections Victoria deputy operations commissioner Rod Wise said Hopkins Correctional Centre had some of the best facilities and staff of any prison in Australia.
Mr Wise said Ararat had always been a “prison town” going back to J Ward for the criminally insane back in the 1880s.
“It has been a phenomenal history of looking after offenders in this town,” he said.
“We tend to forget that back in 1967, the new 200-bed prison in Ararat was the second biggest in the state, behind Pentridge.
“You go back to the 1960s, one of the things that stood out in Ararat was that it was the only infrastructure project that was built by people other than prisoners.
“Ararat was built by professionals for the sum of $1.25 million. Things have changed just a tad.”
Mr Wise said one of the standout events from his time at the prison was during the 1980s, when a prisoner made himself sick by drinking formaldehyde from a jar containing a preserved lizard carcass.
An incident in 1979 served to highlight the dangers of working in a prison.
A prison guard was awarded a medal for bravery after his cheekbone was fractured when confronting an intoxicated prisoner who had attacked staff with a cricket bat.
Mr Wise said that incident at Ararat led to the creation of the Victorian Prison Dog Squad and the Security and Emergency Services Group for the corrections system.