The route to an of­fence-free re­lease

Cur­rent pro­grammes in our pris­ons are al­ready teach­ing new skills, em­pa­thy and re­spon­si­bil­ity and show­ing in­mates that they have choices in life.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - REHABILITATION - The new Cor­rec­tions Min­is­ter is Louise Up­ston, who pre­vi­ously held the port­fo­lio for Women’s Af­fairs.

With New Zealand’s fe­male pris­oner muster hit­ting an all-time high of 700, the op­por­tu­ni­ties for change within our pris­ons must grow too. “The vast ma­jor­ity of women in our pris­ons are the most put-upon, beaten, hu­mil­i­ated and de­graded peo­ple in the coun­try. We want to help those who have been dis­em­pow­ered for most of their lives, so they know they have choices,” the for­mer Cor­rec­tions Min­is­ter, Ju­dith Collins, said. The con­cept be­hind the Moth­ers and Ba­bies Units is to help women pris­on­ers “make pos­i­tive changes and stay of­fence­free when they are re­leased”. The units, in all three of the coun­try’s women’s pris­ons – Auck­land Re­gion Women’s Cor­rec­tions Fa­cil­ity (ARWC), Aro­hata, and Christchurch Women’s – al­low el­i­gi­ble moth­ers to keep their chil­dren with them un­til the age of two. Moth­ers who are drug-free and have had no se­ri­ous mis­con­ducts live in self-care units with other moth­ers and ba­bies, cook­ing and clean­ing for them­selves. They have ac­cess to ser­vices they would have in the com­mu­nity – an­te­na­tal classes, mid­wives, Plun­ket and par­ent­ing sup­port. The units help in­mates bond with their chil­dren and build re­la­tion­ships with other moth­ers. En­cour­ag­ing em­pa­thy, trust, and a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity is the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind the Pup­pies in Pris­ons pro­gramme, which has been run­ning at ARWC in Wiri since 2009. Women in­mates train mo­bil­ity as­sis­tance dogs that even­tu­ally are as­signed to help peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties gain in­de­pen­dence. “A woman pris­oner who had been con­nected to gangs told me what she re­ally got out of it was learn­ing to help some­one else,” Ju­dith Collins said. “She felt more con­fi­dence, pur­pose and a sense of em­pow­er­ment. How en­cour­ag­ing that is, to say to some­one who has al­ways been on the re­ceiv­ing end of help, ‘Ac­tu­ally, you can help some­one else.’” Changes were in­tro­duced last year to help fe­male in­mates at risk of fam­ily vi­o­lence on the out­side. At-risk women are iden­ti­fied early in their prison sen­tences so they can at­tend cour­ses and have sup­port or­gan­ised be­fore they leave prison. Help­ing them ul­ti­mately helps their chil­dren. Fund­ing has been al­lo­cated this year to in­tro­duce more Brain­wave Trust work into pris­ons, to ex­plain how chil­dren’s brains de­velop. Men­tal health has also be­come a ma­jor is­sue for Cor­rec­tions, with recog­ni­tion that many pris­on­ers have di­ag­nosed, or un­di­ag­nosed, men­tal health is­sues that could be ad­dressed – which may help pre­vent them re­of­fend­ing. There has been a $14.2 mil­lion fund­ing in­crease for the next two years to buy in ser­vices out­side those the Dis­trict Health Boards al­ready pro­vide. “It takes a long time, but we are mak­ing changes,” Ju­dith Collins said. “Par­tic­u­larly for women pris­on­ers – get­ting them into a po­si­tion so that when they leave, they know they have op­tions in life. That they don’t have to go back to what they came from, if go­ing back is a bad choice for them.”

She told me what she re­ally got out of it was learn­ing to help some­one else.

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