Parklea inmates help kids become Rooby readers

Parklea inmates help kids become Rooby readers

Penrith residents will soon see red and white boxes with a kangaroo on the front around their neighbourhood, thanks to Parklea Correctional Centre and Mission Australia joining forces to give kids free books.

The colourful street library boxes, built and painted by inmates, are part of a children’s literacy initiative, which has also provided inmates with meaningful work and the chance to contribute positively to the community.

Parklea Correctional Centre Acting Governor Brian Gurney said staff were always looking for worthy community projects and this reading program was a win-win for inmates and children’s literacy.

“Many inmates in prison have low levels of literacy, so they understand the barriers people face if they have poor reading and writing skills,” Mr Gurney said.

“At Parklea we provide opportunities for inmates to learn new skills and gain qualifications in a number of industries and producing something that benefits the community gives them a sense of pride and achievement.

“It also keeps them busy and helps maintain their mental health and self-esteem.”

The Paint Penrith REaD program was created by Mission Australia and Penrith City Council in 2009 to provide education and support to local parents through literacy-focused community events and workshops.

Parklea became involved in the initiative when Mission Australia Area Manager Western Sydney Julie Jasprizza-Laus, a member of the prison’s Community Consultation Committee, sought assistance to construct and paint the boxes.

Mrs Jasprizza-Laus said she was pleased the inmates wanted to donate their time and efforts for a good cause.

“The foundations for excellence in learning are laid early in life and parents and carers who engage children in high-quality learning experiences from a young age make a significant difference to a child’s educational success at school,” Mrs Jasprizza-Laus said.

“Communication and language skills are vital for children’s learning and key to their life chances and success and this program will help them achieve that.”

Mission Australia is the lead organisation for Paint Penrith REaD and partners with community groups, government agencies and businesses across the local government area to highlight the importance of early literacy and the role parents and care givers play in a child’s life.

The program’s mascot “Rooby Roo the reading kangaroo” is involved in all activities, such as playgroups, rhyme time, and library engagement, to foster a fun and welcoming learning environment for children and their families.

Book boxes have been installed at Mission Australia, Kingswood; Wainwright Park, Kingswood; and Glenmore Park Child and Family Centre.

The community has the opportunity to take ownership of the street libraries by putting in books they no longer need or taking ones that others have donated.

To donate new or used books, contact Annette Britton at

Parklea has been operated by MTC Australia on behalf of Corrective Services NSW since 2019.