Corrections initiatives targeted at youth are making a difference to the lives of young offenders.

As part of Youth Week 2017 (26 May–4 June), Corrections isrecognising the work being done with young people in New Zealand prisons and on community sentences or orders.

This year the theme of Youth Week is ‘our voices count; count our voices’.

“Youth re-offend at a higher rate than any other group of offenders,” says Neil Beales, Chief Custodial Officer.

Corrections manages around 330 people who are under 20 in prison and around 1500 people under 20 on community sentences.

“We have a number of initiatives around the country working to help keep youth engaged, compliant and focused on positive goals,” says Neil.

Specific rehabilitative programmes are offered to offenders under the age of 20. One of these is the Mauri Toa Rangatahi (“the power of youth”) programme which provides offenders with skills to help their problem-solving, learn how to change attitudes, behaviours, and manage their emotions. Corrections also works with a number of community partners who support programmes and projects in the community, targeted for our young offenders.

“Youth have a unique way of learning so it is important the programmes offered are targeted in a way that they can relate to,” says Neil. “Our vision is to help unlock young people’s potential and get them leaving us educated, employed and with a sense of belonging.

“If we are successful in motivating young people to change their offending behaviours early, they are more likely to be turn away from a life of crime.”

Dedicated Youth Units in Christchurch Men’s Prison and Hawkes Bay Regional Prison aim to help set up youth prisoners to lead a crime free life on release. Recently, eligible prisoners in both of these units have been taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh programme, completing their Bronze award. Youth in Hawkes Bay Regional Prison are also involved in the Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) with pupils from St John’s College Hastings.

“YES gets the young men to take an idea, turn it into a business proposition and set it up as they would in the business world,” says George Massingham, Prison Director Hawkes Bay Regional Prison. “They can then take these business skills and use them in a positive way in the community once they are released.”

“It’s about treating them like and giving them the tools for success in the community,” says George. “When they succeed, our community succeeds.”

A recent initiative has also been helping to develop a youth voice culture in the units. The units have been asked to hold two focus group sessions over two months, on a range of topics including what works well in the unit, what doesn’t work well and suggestions for improvement.

“These focus groups are about increasing youth voice and have been well received,” says George.

There are also nominated youth champions at every prison and community corrections service centre to engage directly with young people at their site.

Megan Porter is a youth champion with Christchurch Community Corrections and is proud to be able to make a valuable contribution to changing the lives of young offenders.

“With young people, they need someone to believe in them because often they haven’t got that support network,” says Megan. “We’re supportive of them and show that we believe in them which can empower them to make a positive change.”

The week also recognises youth workers, youth service providers and others working with and for young people.

“The work our staff do with the youth we manage can make a real difference. They are positive role models for these young men and women that may not have had one before and help them feel like their voices are being heard,” says Neil Beales. “It’s important that we acknowledge them too.”

Check out videos about Christchurch Men’s Youth Unit working on bike refurbishments and the unit’s run club.