Youth offenders in the community learn carving skills as part of The Maori Youth Programme.A community intervention programme run in partnership between the Department of Corrections and West Coast Adult Learning Services saw eight community youth offenders gain skills to help them stay out of trouble and gain employment.

The Maori Youth Programme helps youth obtain a driver licence, pull together their NZQA Record of Learning (ROL), create a CV and learn how to write a job application letter. This year, they are also learning cooking and carving skills.

Four tutors from West Coast Adult Learning Services and West Coast Community Corrections staff worked with the eight young people for the two days of the programme.

“This is a great local initiative,” says West Coast Service Manager, Kelly Hill. “The seven young Maori men and one young woman came from as far afield as Blackball and Hokitika. All involved will greatly benefit from the programme, which incorporated some te reo and tikanga education and practical support to help them get their lives back on track.

“Community Work sentences are most often started by offenders aged 20-29, and Maori youth are over-represented in these community sentences. This programme can give these young people a step up, and the confidence and support to make different, more positive life choices in the future.”

“Youth are often a hard group to engage in their sentence,” says Greymouth Community Work Supervisor, Patrick Moloney.  “The response to this programme has been extremely positive. Everyone attending fully participated, and they gained useful employment and life skills. They completed the two-day programme more engaged in their sentence, with a positive view of the future and feeling  real pride in their achievements.”

“Research shows that employment helps people maintain a crime-free life so these two interventions work perfectly together,” says Kelly.

“Often the youth have completed unit standards or learnt employable skills without having these fully documented. By creating a CV, we look at all the pertinent skills they have learnt. They are usually surprised when we pull it all together. They go from thinking they have no useful experience or qualifications for a job, to feeling quite proud of all their accomplishments.

“Another key part of the programme is getting the youth driver licences. Driving illegally is a common path for youth to get themselves in trouble and into a cycle of offending. A licence helps them stay on the right side of the law. It also increases their chances of getting a job and getting to work so they can keep that job.”

Apart from the danger that driving without a licence presents to the community, it can be a precursor to other crimes.

“Youth, especially, start getting a few charges and they can’t get on top of them, so they snowball,” says Kelly.

“For many of the young people we are working with, a licence is a really, really big deal. They are so proud of themselves.”

Barry is one of the youth on the programme. He has always driven without a driver’s licence and is on sentence for driving related offences.

He says he knows that “driving without a licence is really stupid” but with no public transport in rural areas he says, “you do what you have to, to get around”.

“Getting my licence and CV together is amazing. I feel so proud of myself,” he says.

He is looking for employment and says he can now consider a wider range of options as he can borrow his father’s car to drive further out of Greymouth.

“I am looking for work and having a driving license will help me apply for jobs anywhere now.”
His preference is for work in agriculture or logging work and he is determined to keep his licence so that he can sustain employment and one day buy his own car.

A highlight of the programme on the second day was the arrival of Master Carver Hohepa Barrett, of Westport. He began by helping the Maori youth on their karakia, waiata and mihi and then taught them basic carving skills.

At the course’s end, participants had an updated CV, a copy of their ROL, and their drivers licence reinstated, or their learner licence. Some are booked in for a test drive with the driving instructor prior to sitting their test for a restricted licence. They also took home a carving, some new skills and ideas for the future.

“Past targeted programmes like this have demonstrated the difference they can make for this particular group of offenders,” says Kelly. “Connecting people with traditional skills and language, providing them with the tools to gain and maintain employment and to stay away from crime makes perfect sense.”

“The earlier we can help young offenders to make better choices, to serve their sentences and move on to a positive  life, the better their future will be and the safer the community will be too.”

“The beauty of working with a small group is that the tutors can provide one-on-one support, and over a short period can provide something very targeted and meaningful to the individual participants,” says Trena Chambers, Regional Manager, West Coast Adult Learning Services.

The West Coast Adult Learning Services partnership will continue to work with Corrections to support these  students beyond the programme and  ensure that they achieve the best possible outcome for each individual.