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Goff: Wellington prison and community voluneers

26 June, 2008
Speech to Wellington region prison and community volunteers, marking Volunteers Awareness Week

Good afternoon

I am very pleased to be invited along to today’s event; acknowledging the great work each and everyone of you do in our Wellington prisons.

The purpose of events like today’s afternoon tea is for all of us to take some time and celebrate the contribution you, as volunteers, and your various organisations make in the lives of prisoners in the Wellington region. Your interactions, support and positive influence help to make their reintegration into the community more likely to be successful for them personally and therefore to make the community safer by reducing the likelihood of their re-offending.

The Department has a long association with volunteers through organisations such as Prison Fellowship New Zealand. Our involvement with PFNZ and other voluntary groups is going from strength to strength. This is best demonstrated through the number of volunteers we have right across the country. I’m told there are currently 3,015 volunteers who provide a wide range of services and activities to prisoners in our 20 prisons. In addition to that number, there are 180 Kaiwhakamana and 92 Fautua Pasefika volunteers who make a significant contribution to prisoners’ lives.

PFNZ’s Kim Workman stated last week that New Zealand has more prison volunteers in proportion to the prisoner population than anywhere else in the world, with volunteers totalling around 40% of the number of prisoners population compared to 28% in Canada and 14% in the UK. We should be proud and thankful for that.

The number of people who are taking the time to volunteer in prisons has steadily increased, by 6 per cent since the start of 2008, which is pleasing to see. I understand that volunteers are represented by a total of 443 voluntary groups and 85 per cent belong to faith-based organisations.

Alongside these groups and individuals sits Kaiwhakamana and Fatua Pasefika volunteers. In 2002 the Department recognised how important it is for our Maori and Pacific Island prisoners to have a connection back to their community and their identity. As a result the Department launched their Kaiwhakamana and Fatua Pasefika policies.

The purpose of the Kaiwhakamana policy is to give kaumatua, in a voluntary support role, greater access to prisons so they can support Maori prisoners with their rehabilitation while in prison and their reintegration to the community prior to and after release. I’m told there is a strong and active Kaiwhakamana presence in the Wellington area which is pleasing and provides a wide range of support to Maori prisoners and their Whanau.

Kaiwhakamana helps prisoners to connect and maintain relationships with whanau and come to terms with a prison sentence. They also teach prisoners about whakapapa and tikanga. This valuable support is also provided to former prisoners and their Whanau after release.

Similarly, the Fautua Pasefika policy gives selected people from the Pacific Island community greater access to prisons to support Pacific Island prisoners to provide support to these prisoners and their family.

Earlier this year, the Department approved its Volunteers Policy, which sets out its commitment to developing and maintaining strong relationships with current volunteers and associated organisations. This policy is a big step forward in future planning for the Department to ensure the numbers of prison volunteers continues to rise steadily over the coming years.

The policy also outlines the Department’s vision for volunteering prisons. The vision is one of a professionalised prison volunteering service, built on the principles of community participation, diversity, self-improvement and value-added services. This is strongly linked with the Government’s policy on volunteering which actively supports and values the contributions people make to the common good through volunteering and cultural obligations.

It is clear to me that volunteers, such as yourselves are playing an increasingly important role in prisons, and the Department recognises the role of the volunteer is an important one to have within prison walls. The impact you have on a prisoner’s rehabilitation and reintegration does not go un-noticed. Organisations such as Toastmasters, Prison Fellowship New Zealand, Alcoholics Anonymous and the various individuals who all spend time in prison supporting, counselling and calming prisoners is greatly appreciated. The personal assistance that you provide is of enormous benefit to prisoners. And as you know, working with prisoners is often not an easy job.

The volunteer calendar for our three Wellington prisons is a busy one. As most of you are probably aware, we have an enduring relationship with Prison Fellowship New Zealand. Kim Workman and his team have been an integral part of prison volunteering in New Zealand for 25 years. They have been involved in a number of initiatives over the years, including their highly successful Sycamore Tree Programme, Operation Jericho and the establishment of the Faith Based Unit at Rimutaka Prison. Prison Fellowship New Zealand’s work also includes one-on-one mentoring, church services, group studies and art and music training. Currently PFNZ have over 60 mentors working with prisoners and ex-prisoners.

We cannot forget that along with all these services PFNZ do for prisoners and ex-prisoners, an important part of their work is working with families of prisoners. Every year they join with the Prison Chaplaincy Service to co-ordinated the Angel Tree project, which ensures the children of prisoners receive Christmas presents from their incarcerated parent.

Along with PFNZ, Wellington Prisons have volunteers from the local Quilters Guild. These ladies have been associated with Arohata Prison since their first visit in 1993 to provide a six week quilt making course to a small number of female prisoners. Soon after, the “Shut in Stitchers” were established, and 15 years later they continue to go from strength to strength. Using donated fabric, the “Shut in Stitchers” continue to create beautiful quilts, some of which are donated to charities such as Women’s Refuge. The art of quilt making provides our prisoners with transferable skills, such as sewing and mathematics which are indeed valuable skills to have and to use back in the community. The quilters also teach the prisoners about patience, perseverance and provide prisoners with a creative outlet while boosting their self esteem.

Capital Toast Masters are new to the volunteering list in Wellington. Members from the Toast Masters club have been visiting Rimutaka since late last year and provide a speech craft programme to prisoners in the Reintegration Unit. The programme allows prisoners to learn the art of expressing themselves clearly, concisely and confidently in a supportive and positive setting. Recently six prisoners graduated from the first programme, which involved preparing and presenting 6 speeches. A second speech craft programme is now well underway and from what I understand the feedback from both the volunteers and prisoners has been very encouraging. The skills being taught to prisoners by the Toastmasters will prove to be invaluable upon release.

Another group that has been making a positive contribution to prisons through volunteering is Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous volunteers have been running meetings in Wellington prisons for 20 years. Volunteering that is much needed, considering that 60 per cent of offenders are affected by drugs or alcohol at the time of their offending and support and education from groups such as AA is clearly needed.

Alcoholics Anonymous assists prisoners to re-evaluate and take responsibility for their lives and to recognise and acknowledge the impact alcohol abuse has had on their lives and plays a part in their offending. AA helps prisoners to address their addiction and start to build a positive future when released.

Together you all make a huge difference in the lives of prisoners and their families and to improving community safety by helping offenders lead a crime-free life on release. Volunteers give prisoners the human contact which assists them to see a life outside of the prison system. It’s this reason that the Department is absolutely committed to supporting and valuing the role of volunteers now and moving forward in the future.

ENDS

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