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Christmas in Prison - A Quiet One

A Quiet Christmas

Christmas for prisoners in New Zealand will be a quiet, simple affair says, the Department of Corrections.

“Christmas is an understated, straightforward day with a Christmas meal and the chance for some prisoners to play sports and attend church services,” says Assistant General Manager Operations Bryan McMurray.

“Christmas can be a very stressful and tough time for many prisoners and our staff are trained to ensure that they can recognise and respond to anyone not coping.”

The Director of the Chaplaincy Service, David Major, says while Corrections Officers must keep order, both Corrections Officers and prison chaplains try to make the day as normal and pleasant as possible. He says this is not “getting soft on crime” - rather it is about the importance of normalising the occasion.

“Prisoners return to the outside world eventually, so in the end as normal a Christmas Day as possible is in the interests of the prisoners’ children, parents and the whole community,” he says.

“On Christmas morning thousands of children wake up knowing mum or dad is in prison and thousands of parents wake up knowing their son or daughter is in prison.”

“Working alongside Corrections Officers, the chaplains also make themselves available to any prisoners who want to talk,” Mr Major says. “The Department not only has the obligation of managing prisoner safety and security but we must also do so humanely. Recognising Christmas in a small way is one way we can do this.

“Prisoners may receive approved gifts from friends and family, however all items are subject to normal security processes to prevent contraband entering the prison,” says Mr McMurray.

Many prisoners have children and loved ones on the outside whom they wish to give presents to says, Mr McMurray.

“A lot of prisoners spend their recreation time, and use skills from art programmes, to make gifts for their families that they can send home for Christmas. In some regions, the Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society (PARS) may purchase gifts on prisoners’ behalf for them to send to their friends and family.”

Prisoners’ children may receive presents through the Angel Tree Programme. The programme operates at most New Zealand prisons and is co-ordinated by Prison Fellowship New Zealand, with the support of the Prison Chaplaincy Service and local churches, who organise the purchase and distribution of gifts to prisoners’ children.

“For our staff working on Christmas day it is business as usual, but prisoners may spend their day involved in recreational activities such as touch rugby or basketball. They can also attend multi-denominational church services held by the prison chaplain.

“Participation in these activities depends upon a prisoner’s security classification and behaviour.”

Mr McMurray says it is a common misconception that Christmas in prison is excessive when really its not.

“It is Christmas, but there is no fanfare. It’s a basic and appropriate day for all.”

ENDS

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