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Prison Volunteers not a Bunch of Bible Bashers

Prison Volunteers not a Bunch of Bible Bashers

One of the myths we need to debunk, is that prison volunteers are a bunch of bible bashers, said Kim Workman, National Director, Prison Fellowship New Zealand, a national Christian ministry. He was acknowledging the work of over 3000 approved prison volunteers, as part of International Volunteer Day, who visit prisoners within the system, and regularly contribute to their rehabilitation and reintegration. It is estimated that of the volunteers going in to prisons, about 86% are church based.

We have a significant challenge ahead of us. There is a misperception within the community that the sole reason volunteers go into prison is to trophy hunt vulnerable prisoners into making a Christian commitment. It is true that Christian volunteers have regularly visited prison ever since the first prison was built in New Zealand. Today, the hold worship services, take bible studies, assist the chaplaincy, do one-to-one visiting, and provide limited after care. None of this is coercive the services are available only to those inmates who want to participate.

Our critics need to understand that volunteers are driven, not by the desire to engage in rampant evangelism, but to contribute to the normalisation of the prison environment, and to make a difference to the prisoners lives. We conducted a survey last year with existing volunteers in the Auckland region, and found that , and of the church-based volunteers, 75% of them indicated they would be interested in working with prisoners in different ways. They want to contribute to a range of activity, sports and recreation, arts, education, kapahaka, Pacific culture, music, and so on. Until recently, this opportunity has been largely denied them.

The Department of Corrections has recently undergone substantial criticism in the last six months about the lack of constructive activity in prisons. The Ombudsmens Report and the Salvation Army report both pointed to a high level of prisoner inactivity. The Department was hampered by an increasing prisoner imprisonment rate, a lack of resources, and an inability to meet other than basic humane containment requirements.

Its a match made in heaven said Mr Workman. On the one hand we have Corrections being criticised about the lack of activity on the other there are volunteers wanting to fill the gap.

Prison Fellowship is convinced that volunteers make a significant contribution to prisoner rehabilitation. In our faith based unit at Rimutaka prison, volunteers run a whole range of activity, music, choir, art, personal visiting, and mentoring. During their daily interaction with volunteers, prisoners get to practice relational and communication skills with pro-social others, who convey a set of positive values and beliefs to the prisoners,. The volunteers constantly model an environment based on positive affirmation, mutual accountability, commitment to purposive change, and underlying respect for the rights and dignity of others.

He congratulated the department on its developing its volunteer management policy, and the recent decision to advertise for a National Volunteer coordinator, and five regional coordinators. If this works, it should facilitate the approval of more volunteers into the system, to engage in a range of pro-active activity. People who want to volunteer for prison work, can find out more at:


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