Lit­tle house built in the Big House

The Hutt News - - FRONT PAGE - NI­CHOLAS BOY­ACK

It was a great es­cape from Rimu­taka Prison, but in­stead of a pris­oner clear­ing the ra­zor-wire, it was a house.

Built by eight pris­on­ers for Housing New Zealand, the twobed­room home is des­tined for a site in Lower Hutt.

With a large crowd of ner­vous of­fi­cials watch­ing, it was gin­gerly lifted over the wire and onto the back of a wait­ing truck.

The house was built un­der su­per­vi­sion of WelTec staff who run six trade pro­grammes in the Up­per Hutt prison.

Rimu­taka Prison di­rec­tor Viv Whe­lan said the project was a sig­nif­i­cant one.

‘‘Not only is this the first house to be built in the prison, it also pro­vides hope for a pos­i­tive fu­ture for the men who built it, and for the fam­ily who will live in it,’’ she said.

‘‘The men now have prac­ti­cal, hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence backed up with a qual­i­fi­ca­tion that will help them into em­ploy­ment on re­lease.’’

One pris­oner, who can­not be named, un­der­stood the im­por­tance of gain­ing a qual­i­fi­ca­tion. A first-time in­mate, he was study- ing for a plumbing qual­i­fi­ca­tion through WelTec and hoped it would help him find a job in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor.

He ac­cepted that he had made a mis­take and said he did not want to waste his time in prison.

The pub­lic had the wrong im­pres­sion of pris­on­ers. Just about ev­ery­one in prison would one day get out, and the best way of mak­ing sure they did not re­turn was finding them a job, he said.

If he was not study­ing he would be back in his cell do­ing noth­ing. He would be ‘‘an id­iot’’ to turn down the op­por­tu­nity of free ed­u­ca­tion, he said.

Chris Hip­kins, MP for Rimu- taka and Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, said up­skilling pris­on­ers meant they were less likely to re­of­fend. It also helped deal with the ‘‘wider ‘‘ is­sue of the need for more houses.

The govern­ment plans to build 300 new houses in the Hutt Val­ley and thou­sands na­tion­ally. He ac­knowl­edged that there was a ‘‘huge’’ skill short­age and sup­ported New Zealan­ders be­ing trained to do the work.

Pris­on­ers are build­ing a sec- ond home and Hip­kins said the scheme had the po­ten­tial to sup­ply houses on a larger scale.

It was also good to see HNZ, Corrections and ed­u­ca­tion providers work­ing to­gether co­op­er­a­tively, he said.

Corrections chief ex­ec­u­tive Ray Smith said pro­vid­ing train­ing was ‘‘ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal’’ if we wanted to re­duce prison num­bers.

Two-thirds of pris­on­ers were un­em­ployed when they com­mit- ted their crime and it was in so­ci­ety’s best in­ter­ests to find them work when they got out, he said.

For many men, the the qual­i­fi­ca­tion they get in prison will be their first. Na­tion­ally, there had been a change of at­ti­tude and em­ploy­ers are now much more will­ing to em­ploy pris­on­ers af­ter they have been re­leased.

In the last fi­nan­cial year, 3894 pris­on­ers achieved a qual­i­fi­ca­tion na­tion­ally, Smith said.

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