Education unlocks the key to better prisoner outcome

Louise Upston

We are on a mission to create safer communities.

A key part of this is employment.

Imagine never having a regular job.

Never getting up and do a day’s work.

Never feeling the satisfaction that comes from a job well done, and the added security, increased self-esteem and respect that a regular income provides.

A regular income that may be keeping you and your family in a home, fed and clothed.

Now imagine a whole group of people for whom this is a reality.

There are thousands of people who, at the time they go into prison, were not holding down a job. Some have never had a job.

Education and employability

For many of the men and women in prison, their issues began well before that.

An astonishing 65% of the people in prison could not read and write properly when they came in to the Corrections system. It becomes much harder to get a job when you don’t have a good education behind you.

One thing we do know though, is that people who find stable employment when they leave prison are less likely to go on and commit more crime.

This is massively positive for them, their whanau, the communities they are returning to. It’s also helping us reduce the reoffending rate and the prison muster.

You can imagine that we are starting almost from scratch with some of the people in Corrections’ care.

But we can celebrate the fact that Corrections is working hard to improve education, skills and training opportunities for people in prisons.

Renewed focus

The Government too has a renewed focus to prevent this from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. We want to get in early, target the children who are at risk of going down this path and make sure they have a safe upbringing and a good education.

Corrections employs 10 full-time education tutors who support 4769 prisoners to improve their education levels.

Experienced education service providers and organisations such as the Howard League for Penal Reform are contracted to help prisoners learn to read.

These efforts are bearing fruit; 42% of prisoners have demonstrated significant gains through intensive literacy and numeracy programmes.

Corrections also provides support for people to gain higher level qualifications.

Last year, prisoners achieved more than 4600 qualifications, a 25% increase on the year before.

Creative engagement

From the moment people enter prison, they are involved in industry, treatment and learning activities that will help them when they leave.

We know we have a skills shortage in our industries. Corrections has people who are being trained and motivated to fill those gaps.

New Zealand’s prisons offer training in a vast array of industries, including horticulture, agriculture, construction, carpentry, beekeeping, concreting, joinery, hospitality, painting, forestry, distribution, laundry and catering.

Opportunities have already opened for more than 70 people who are currently, or have been, on sentence with Corrections and have been employed by the NZ Labour Hire on a casual or fulltime basis within the construction industry since June, and there are more jobs still available.

Last year. close to 1860 prisoners and around 8800 community-based offenders were helped to find stable employment.

That is an increase of 50% on the year before.

The message I want to convey to you is this:

You can help make a difference, a difference to the lives of offenders, their whānau, and their communities by employing a former offender and giving them a second chance.

Louise Upston is Corrections Minister of New Zealand.

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