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New Zealand Leads the World in Prison Volunteering

New Zealand Leads the World in Prison Volunteering

"New Zealand has more prison volunteers in proportion to the prisoner population than anywhere else in the world", according to Kim Workman, National Director, Prison Fellowship. He was speaking in support of Volunteer Awareness Week.

"There are currently over 3000 volunteers and around 7,500 prisoners – that equates to 40% of the total prisoner population. As far as we can establish, Canada is next, with a volunteer population that equates to 28% of the prison population. The UK's volunteer population equates to 14% of the prison population, with Australia and other OECD countries lagging well behind."

"Those numbers reflect the Department of Corrections growing commitment to volunteers. The number of volunteers has doubled in the last 5-6 years, and the recent appointment of a National Adviser, Volunteers within the department, who has served as a central point from which volunteer issues can be resolved. The recent establishment of a Prison Volunteering Advisory Group which advises the department on volunteer issues, has further enhanced the relationship."

"The other stand-out feature is that 85% of the volunteers come from the churches. This negates the image of New Zealand Christians as being punitive, narrowly moralistic, and condemning in their attitude toward prisoners, and "the last, the least, and the lonely". The public posturing of Christian advocacy groups who call for the harsh punishment of offenders, does not represent the views of the wider church."

"Those Christians that visit prisoners, and assist with their families, understand that Jesus directed his followers to visit prisoners, and that the gospel calls us to treat prisoners as though we were ourselves imprisoned."

"Volunteers provide a wide range of services to prisoners. Apart from assisting the chaplaincy with church services, and bible studies, they engage in one-to-one visiting with those prisoners who do not have anyone to visit them. They become a listening ear, mentor, confidante, and friend. Many Christians provide a range of constructive activity – art classes, carving tuition, remedial reading, sport and recreation, budget advice, public speaking tuition, and life skills which serve to equip prisoners on release."

"They are a remarkable bunch. One recently retired volunteer had been visiting prisons weekly since 1946. Another volunteer has taken three serous paedophiles into her home over the last fifteen years. She and her husband provided them with a combination of care and accountability - and none of them reoffended."

Kim Workman
National Director
Prison Fellowship of New Zealand


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