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Disaster warning: Crime tsunami about to hit

Media release: 11 February 2008

Disaster warning: Crime tsunami about to hit

New Zealand is about to be hit with the biggest disaster ever recorded in history, and it is not an earthquake.

A crime tsunami will hit New Zealand within the next 10 years unless we take action and introduce a planned strategy to support prisoners’ children, says Verna McFelin, a leading advocate for children of prisoners and chief executive of PILLARS.

“There is a major problem out there that will have a massive impact on our penal systems - filling our courts and our prisons. That problem is the children of prisoners who are seven times more likely to commit a crime later in life than other children,” Verna says.

To back up her comments, Verna cites recent research from Canada where 59.7 per cent of adult inmates are children of prisoners and a recent report from USA stated 48%. There is no data collected on these statistics in New Zealand but based on extensive international research these children are identified as “high risk” of filling New Zealand’s prisons in the future.

“These kids have to be reached. A planned strategy is needed to break the cycle of intergenerational offending before it is too late. 2008 is the year to act and make a change.”

PILLARS is a community-based organisation which aims to break this cycle of crime by supporting prisoners’ children and their families through volunteer mentors, a social worker and other support services.

A 13-year-old Christchurch girl with a father in prison had her life turned around when she became involved in PILLARS’ mentoring programme.

“We firmly believe that if every prisoner’s child in New Zealand was matched with a mentor the crime rate could be reduced by as much as 50 per cent in 10 years.”

Mentors provide a listening ear as many of the prisoners’ children who PILLARS sees have no-one else to talk to.

“No-one knows they have a parent in prison. We have found a major turn-around in this child’s attitude and the bond with her mentor was instrumental, we believe, in how much her life has changed,” says Verna.

Prisoners’ children often show emotional, social and behavioural problems, which can lead to criminal behaviour, health problems and a poor performance at school.

“There is a lot of shame and it is essential that the child’s needs are met so they feel secure and confident and can move on with their lives.”


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