Little house built in the Big House
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.