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.
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.