Prisoners turning lives around post-release


The number of offenders scoring full-time work on release from prison is on the increase.

It's all part of the Government's aim to reduce reoffending by 25 percent by 2017, with many of these offenders gaining qualifications needed from behind the wire.

Springhill Corrections Facility is one of 16 working prisons offering courses to offenders, including carpentry, plumbing and gardening.

Up to 60 percent of offenders are unemployed before going into prison, and Corrections staff are adamant skills learnt behind the wire will stop them from reoffending.

"You do see a change in prisoners' attitudes when they come in and when they start their training," says Sean Smith, Springhill manager of industries and offender employment.

"Some of them are quite apprehensive in the beginning but then their confidence grows."

Newshub was taken through Springhill where we were shown the carpentry and plumbing workshops. The prisoners were being taught how to assemble a basic pipe fitting, and some were working towards a Level 4 NZQA qualification.

One prisoner who we can't name says he had few skills before coming to prison, and instead turned to a life of drugs, alcohol and crime.

"I had the opportunities out there, but I just didn't choose to do them," he says.

He still has five more years behind bars, but believes the skills he's learnt in prison will help score him a career.

"I'm hoping to get a job as a drain layer when I get out, and eventually start my own business and help my family and my marae."

Ninety-four offenders across the Central Region have gained paid employment since the middle of last year -- while on parole, serving a community based sentence, or in the six months since their release.

A growing number of employers are also hiring them, with 44 businesses across the country having signed memorandums of understanding with Corrections.

At Springhill Corrections Facility they hope to help boost that number by holding open days to showcase the skills of the prisoners to potential employers.

"Sometimes we help people into the first job they have ever had," says Corrections spokeswoman Louise Wood. "The structure in their life, along with the pride of achieving something positive each day can be the thing that makes all the difference."

Two success stories have come out Hampton Downs race track, just across the road from the prison.

Two offenders on release-to-work schemes have been guaranteed apprenticeships at the end of their sentences.

Site manager Kevin O'Neill says he was wary at first, but is now encouraging other employers to give prisoners a chance.

"I was extremely sceptical in that I thought people on this programme would say and do what they thought people would want to hear, but when they got here I found it to be totally different."

He says the pair have a great attitude and are keen to turn their lives around.