Social Enterprise Spotlight: YMCA ReBuild

We speak to YMCA ReBuild, a social enterprise dedicated to rebuilding the lives of young people trapped in the ‘revolving door’ of incarceration.

ReBuild is a social enterprise with a core purpose of employing young people who have been released from the corrections system and provides them with support, training and employment opportunities to make lasting pro-social change in their lives. ReBuild offers a range of commercial services to businesses across metropolitan Melbourne including facilities maintenance, landscaping, building works and office maintenance.

ReBuild is different from other employment pathway programs because it commences working with offenders while they are serving their custodial sentences, building skills and confidence, before transitioning young people into direct jobs, and in some cases, on to other employers.

We had the opportunity to speak with Kate Smith, Case Manager at YMCA Rebuild about the program, which provides both skills training from Ravenhall Correctional Centre and employment opportunities for their participants when they are released.


There are two parts to ReBuild, training for participants while they are incarcerated at Ravenhall, and employment with Commercial ReBuild when they are released. How do they fit together?

ReBuild’s continual model of care is integral to our success as it provides a stable and consistent environment for participants as they embark on a difficult reintegration journey.

It builds rapport and engagement with participants whilst also providing a unique opportunity for the team to arrange the appropriate post-release supports in the community. It also prevents vulnerable participants from having to re-tell their story.

Correctional ReBuild upskills participants and prepares them to meet the demands and routine of the workforce by simulating the workforce in its design. As such; participants communicate with facilitators as their employer and one another as teammates as they learn on-the-ground trade and employment skills.


What are the risks for young people if Rebuild did not exist? If not for ReBuild, what are the 'regular’ pathways available for young people leaving the prison system?

Without intervention, young people are trapped in the revolving door of incarceration. Young offenders miss out on key learning and developmental milestones while spending their formative years in custody.

They are often released from highly institutionalised settings back into the community without the tangible resources and knowledge required to navigate life independently.

Without addressing young offenders broader support needs through; employment support, housing, mental health and drug and alcohol treatment they continue to engage in criminogenic behaviours.

This is especially true for Victoria’s growing remand population who have insufficient time to complete rehabilitation programs and establish appropriate support networks in the community before release.


What is it in particular that Rebuild offers that leads to such substantial reductions in reoffending?

ReBuild recognises the pivotal role that positive and sustainable employment plays in reducing recidivism rates by providing participants with an economic safety net to envision a future without crime.

Stable employment contributes to the development of a prosocial identity and empowers participants to transition towards independence.

As such, ReBuild is focused on addressing the structural barriers for young offenders to gaining and maintaining employment through intensive case management support.

Each individual has a carefully tailored support plan responsive to their particular needs and circumstances to ensure successful reintegration outcomes.


ReBuild is also growing commercial social enterprise, how do you balance the commercial side of what you do, with the support for participants?

To balance the commercial demands of our social enterprise with the broader support needs of our participants ReBuild manages the customers’ expectations. ReBuild ensures that all customers understand that additional time is required for crew leaders to provide quality assurance on their work while simultaneously training and upskilling participants.

As such, crew leaders are not subject to the same rigorous time constraints. ReBuild also budgets for case managers in its daily rate to ensure that participants can access support needs as required.

We always keep some seasoned participants employed with us who have successfully reintegrated into the community to maintain company culture and motivate newer employees. In doing so we are able to work with individuals who have high reintegration needs whilst maintaining some stability in the workforce.

A man sitting alongside fencing and signs in work clothing. Image credit: YMCA ReBuild
Two men in work gear trimming plants. Image credit: YMCA ReBuild

From your perspective working with young men who have been incarcerated, what are the biggest systemic issues with youth justice in Victoria?

The largest systemic issues facing young people leaving custody include inherited cycles of disadvantage, early exposure to family violence or other forms of childhood trauma and inadequate mental health support.

Many of our young people have complex mental health issues which left untreated, often results in substance abuse. It is unsurprising that 77.7% of our participants from 2018-2020 experienced mental health concerns with 75% from that same time period also struggling with prior substance abuse issues.

Alarmingly, many of our young people have never received psychological support, with their first experience in speaking with a professional often occurring as part of their court report for a plea hearing.


What would you do to change the system?

We need more holistic pre and post reintegration programs tailored to young offenders. Young offenders represent a smaller percentage of the prison population and yet their recidivism rate is higher than their adult counterparts.

Rehabilitation and reintegration programs are shown to be more effective for this cohort which highlights the need to invest in the future wellbeing of young offenders.


What’s next for YMCA Rebuild? Are there opportunities, for example, to expand the program to reach even more young people given the positive impacts the program is having?

In response to the gap in current service provisions for young adults, we are working on a comprehensive educational program to empower young people leaving custody as they move towards independent adult lives.

In partnership with allied organisations, we are developing a holistic life skills program to help participants across multiple facets of independence so that we can address the instability that causes crime rather than merely treating its consequences.

We are also looking to open an official headquarters in Essendon Fields which would expand the commercial, manufacturing and training opportunities available to young offenders and significantly increase our social impact in the community.

ReBuild is continuously in discussions with suppliers about forming alliances on major infrastructure projects. Whenever a supplier chooses to engage ReBuild commercially as part of their social procurement spend, they are providing additional employment opportunities for other young offenders.

We are also excited to be expanding our impact through the launch of our online YMCA ReBuild shop. We will be selling home office items such as; fold up desks, plant pots, planter boxes and other items that are handmade by YMCA ReBuild participants. All profits made will be used to create additional training and employment opportunities for young offenders to break the cycle of crime.

aboriginal flag
torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer