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Prisoners Aid closure a blow to Prisoner Welfare

Prisoners Aid closure a blow to Prisoner Welfare

“The decision of the Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Trust to stop trading, is a devastating blow for its 30 plus staff, dozens of volunteers, and in particular, prisoners and their families and whanau”, says Kim Workman, of Rethinking Crime and Punishment. “But it also has the potential to make prisons less safe.”

“The Trust was established three years ago to tender for the Department of Corrections’ prisoner reintegration contract on behalf of its member PARS. The absence of any working capital and reserve funds, together with low margins between contract income and the costs of providing services, always made its survival questionable. It is however, pleasing to note that the Department of Corrections is now working with the individual societies, to see what can be salvaged. The first society was established in 1877, 136 years ago.”

“In this age of managerialism, we tend to focus on outputs, such as reducing reoffending. In doing so, we under-estimate the social value that groups like PART, its workers and volunteers bring to the mix. They visit prisoners, provide travel and support to their families, help with clothing, accommodation and employment – and they do so often without financial reward or public recognition. These services contribute to prisoner reintegration, but not in a way that can be directly connected to a departmental outputs.”

“There is a matter of equal concern that is not always acknowledged or even accepted by the department. Research shows that the more volunteers engaged with a prison, the safer it is. Prisoners are better behaved and more respectful when they constantly interact with volunteers. Prison officers are also more likely to treat prisoners with respect, and are watchful of their personal behaviour when community volunteers are present. The number of prison volunteers has dropped from 3000 to 2,500 in the last five years – a 16% drop, and it is becoming more difficult for volunteers to interact with the prisons.

It may be time to consider whether volunteer activity in prisons would be more appropriately managed by an external organisation, rather than the department.


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