Equipping prisoners with skills for meaningful jobs
Employment can mean more than just "having a job" to someone leaving prison. It means they can provide for themselves and their family, connect with pro-social support, have a sense of pride and ultimately reduces the likelihood of them re-offending.
For Corrections, supporting offenders' into employment starts with education and employment training inside prison.
During the last financial year, prisoners completed 10 million hours of industry, treatment, learning and constructive activities, and achieved almost 4,000 recognised qualifications.
All prisons managed by Corrections are working prisons, where prisoners are encouraged and supported to engage in education, rehabilitation and employment programmes. This means that all eligible prisoners are engaged in these activities as part of a structured 40 hour week.
A number of prisoners come to prison with issues with reading and writing, in poor physical and mental health, with drug and alcohol issues and not having had stable employment.
Participating in the activities helps prisoners develop the skills and behaviours that will help them prepare for their eventual return back into the community.
"We equip prisoners with skills and experience in industries where they can get real and meaningful jobs when they leave prison," says Stephen Cunningham, Director Offender Employment and Reintegration.
"In prisons across New Zealand, prisoners are studying and gaining skills in horticulture, manufacturing, construction, carpentry, painting and hospitality."
Engaging in employment and industry training enables prisoners to gain real work experience and develop essential employment skills.
"The training and rehabilitation we provide in prisons is widely recognised by employers. They tell us they are impressed with the quality of the training their new employees have completed, and how well prepared they are when they start work," says Stephen.
"Not only does helping set these people up with the training, skills, networks and support they need open up a whole lot of new opportunities for them, it also means safer communities and fewer victims of crime, as people in work are less likely to re-offend."
Prior to being released from prison, minimum security prisoners who are nearing release and assessed as suitable may take part in the Release to Work programme. Prisoners taking part are employed in the community, where they earn a market wage, but have a third deducted to pay for their board inside prison as well as any outstanding court fines or reparation and other costs. While at work, prisoners are regularly checked on and may be subject to electronic GPS monitoring.
Through the programme, prisoners have the opportunity to gain work experience and practice what they have learned taking part in industries inside the prison.
Marie Monmont, owner of local organic brand Wildness Chocolate, has been working with prisoner Barney* as part of the Release to Work programme for the past year and has been very impressed with his work. So much so, that he now has an integral role in her business operations while she is overseas.
"I wanted to help those less fortunate than me. It's hard for these men and women to find employment but they are still part of our society and I wanted to give them a chance," says Marie. "My business is all about being sustainable - being good for the environment and good for people."
"Barney is learning a job, but also to work on his own and gain confidence in his ability to go back to work and feel valuable," says Marie. "Without him I would not be able to run Wildness inside the prison. He is an essential part of the business that I have built.
"Whatever he has done in the past is not affecting his future physical ability for work and the prison staff work with him to help him reintegrate into our community."
Barney enjoys the work and is grateful for the support from Marie.
"Marie is a very compassionate and caring person who is willing to look past [my] crime and see the human inside," he says.
"I am grateful to have her in my life as she reminds me that not all people look at prisoners and see scum. By working for Wildness I have learned to care about how others feel and what their needs are."
Helping connect potential employers with a skilled and motivated workforce supply are Corrections' Offender Recruitment Consultants. The team has recently grown to 27 nationwide, and to date the team have helped more than 1000 ex-offenders into jobs, and supported many others, to help maintain their jobs. For each ex-offender placed, Corrections offers their employer a starter package of $1500 to pay for items such as tools, clothing, top-up training courses and license fees."It's great to see so many employers willing to work with us and give offenders the opportunity to make a positive change to their lives," says Stephen.
"We receive a lot of positive feedback from our employers about the workers they hire and what they've achieved," says Stephen. "We hear that they come well equipped with quality skills, are highly productive, loyal and show a willingness to turn their lives around."
The support doesn't end when someone is placed into work. Corrections' Employment Support Service (ESS) operates similarly, with a full package of support offered to offenders serving sentences and orders in the community. Participants are helped to find and secure employment, and are provided with ongoing support for up to six months to help them settle into work. Since launching in 2015, the ESS service has helped nearly 600 offenders into employment.
"We encourage people to remember these people are more than just their convictions," says Stephen. "They are part of our community. For some offenders, employment gives them a chance to plan for their future for the first time and start playing an active part in leading a positive lifestyle. By helping them support themselves and turn away from a life of crime, we not only help them, but can also make a real difference to keeping our communities safe"
*names have been changed
For some offenders, employment gives them a chance to plan for their future for the first time