Offenders doing Community Work at Otautakino 2,069 offenders on community work sentences in Canterbury have contributed 161,960 hours of manual labour to support local projects in 2016. 138,100 of these hours were undertaken by the 1,794 offenders on community work sentences in Christchurch over the period.

“This is a significant contribution to the local community,” says Corrections’ Southern Regional Commissioner, Ben Clark.

Community work is a sentence of the court that requires offenders to give back to the community against which they offended, by working for free for local community and non-profit groups.

“Many community organisations depend on the support of volunteers and are on extremely tight budgets. Community work gives offenders the opportunity to take responsibility for their offending and give back to the community in a meaningful way,” he says.

“These hours of free labour have a positive impact to the completion or undertaking of valuable projects in the community. It also means that money that would have been spent on these projects can be directed to address other worthwhile community needs.”

Corrections are often told of projects that would have struggled to get underway or to be completed if it hadn’t been for the support from Corrections and the offenders they manage.

Corrections has been working alongside the Christchurch City Council, with people on community sentences assisting with maintenance of the Otukaikino Walkway.

The Otukaikino Walkway is a 13 hectare freshwater wetland reserve located close to Belfast within Christchurch and is being restored as a living memorial. The walk also includes a flat boardwalk track suitable for all ages including strollers.

55,000 native plants have been planted to date and are helping restore the wetlands to their natural habitat. The planting is also supporting native birds in the area and has assisted in improving the water quality in the river.

“The Council is very appreciative of the support we are giving on this large project,” says Acting Service Manager, Pip Creagh. “We are regularly told that this work could not be completed without the support of the Community Work offenders.”

“Corrections has been supporting this project for the past five years. We estimate that up to a thousand people on community work sentences have been involved in the project over this time,” she says.

“It is very rewarding seeing the work of offenders adding real value to such a large number of groups and individuals. Those involved have greatly enjoyed participating in a project where they can see progress being made in an area where they are able to bring their families.”

Another key project in 2016 was the beautification and maintenance of native grasslands at Godley Head for the Department of Conservation.

According to Pip Creagh, around 200 offenders have been involved in the project since June 2016.

“It is such an amazing part of the world. A lovely spot to spend a day and do your service to the community,” says Pip. “Those in the work group often comment on the amazing view, which they wouldn’t have seen if it hadn’t been for their community work.”

Through these projects, offenders learn skills and aptitudes that they can take into employment as well as develop an understanding and appreciation for the environment and their place in it.

“These are experiences they take with them and share with their families and those around them.”

Around 50% of offenders are unemployed. Through their community work, offenders are taught new skills and work habits that could help them secure employment.

Research shows a strong correlation between employment and offenders maintaining a crime free life.

“Community work also helps teach important life skills for employment and engagement in the community, like getting up in the morning, working hard and the gratification that comes from a job well done,” says Ben Clark. “These are the immeasurable benefits of a sentence like this.”

Through these projects or the more structured Work and Living Skills programme, offenders are also gaining important life and employment skills to help them maintain their commitment to a life without further offending.

Nationally, 21,755 people served 24,548 community work sentences in 2016, completing more than 1.8 million hours of manual work in the community to benefit the local community and support government projects, councils and local communities.

Community work numbers have dropped from 31,600 offenders on a community work sentence in 2015, completing 2.4 million hours of community work.