Australian prisoners sent to salt mines to build self-esteem

Mining project south-west of Alice Springs aimed at giving inmates chance to build future and solve staffing shortage

Prisoners in Australia are being offered an unusual way to defray the costs of their incarceration and to build their savings and self-esteem: by working in a salt mine.

The mining project, in the inhospitable desert about 155 miles (250km) south-west of Alice Springs, had been struggling to recruit staff and took advantage of a scheme offered by the Northern Territory government.

“I appreciate there is no small amount of humour in being the minister sending prisoners to a salt mine. The truth of the matter is that it has proven itself to be a worthwhile programme,” said John Elferink, Northern Territory’s minister for justice and correctional services.

“It’s work aimed at normalisation and lifting people’s self-esteem, giving them a chance to build a future for themselves.”

In pre-industrial times, salt was such a valuable commodity that it was used as payment for Roman soldiers but mining of it was so dangerous that work was often undertaken by prisoners.

The convicts working at the Karinga Lakes Potash project, a joint-venture between mining companies Rum Jungle Resources and Reward Minerals, earn wages of about A$16 (£9) an hour and are allowed to keep A$44 a week as spending money.

The government makes deductions, including jail costs and a 5% donation to a victims’ assistance fund. The rest is placed into a trust that is paid when the prisoner is released.

Northern Territory prisoners have also worked as waiters, conveyancers, retailers and labourers since the programme’s inception 12 months ago.

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