Learning sewing skills and sewing scarves for Southland Scout groups.Offenders at Invercargill Prison are taking advantage of opportunities to be involved with rehabilitation programmes, industry training and a variety of learning and constructive activities for 40 hours a week.

As part of the Working Prisons model, prisoners engage in treatment, learning and industry, in preparation for release and reintegration.

“It can be a challenge to provide activities that suit the different interests and needs of all the men on site,” says Prison Director Daryl Tamati. “This is especially so for men who have restrictions on their movements or have physical or mental health needs, but we are committed to this goal and staff and offenders are actively identifying and providing pathways to very meaningful and worthwhile activities.”

Growing vegetables for the Salvation Army as part of horticulture training.The prison offers programmes which provide employable training, practical experience and qualifications in horticulture, carpentry and construction, agriculture, painting and catering.

“In addition to learning work ready and employable skills for release, the practical aspects of these programmes provide many opportunities for the prison and prisoners to contribute to the community,” says Daryl.

“For example, through our horticulture training, offenders are cultivating grasses and shrubs to support local environmental projects like the riparian planting project being undertaken by the Jellicoe Sea Scouts along a stretch of the Oreti River. We also have a strong connection with local iwi who provide seed which is then cultivated to seedling stage before being returned to iwi for planting into the community.”

The prison has a partnership with tertiary provider, Southern Institute of Technology (SIT), which  provides the materials and the trade knowledge for prison construction training.

“We have built four, one-bedroom pre-fabs and a number of picnic tables through this partnership,” says Daryl. “These have been, or will be, returned to SIT for the community.”

“Through our relationship with Taratahi Agriculture Training Organisation, an agriculture and two fencing courses have been completed, with another agriculture course currently being delivered. This includes learning about fencing, water reticulation, safe chainsaw, quadbike and motorcycle use - all useful skills for potential employment in agriculture or horticulture industries.”

Rehabilitation programmes at Invercargill Prison are delivered by specialist staff. These programmes, in the main, help offenders to identify and acknowledge the behaviours and beliefs that lead to their offending and develop the skills to recognise and avoid or manage these situations in the future. These include drug and alcohol programmes, Medium Intensity Rehabilitative Programmes, Short Rehabilitative Programmes, Family Violence and Short Motivational Programmes.

In terms of education, Invercargill Prison offers a range of interventions and programmes dealing with everything from basic literacy and numeracy to facilitating tertiary study.

Research shows that around 80% of prisoners have very low levels of literacy.

“We have offenders at a range of levels,” explains Daryl. “For a variety of reasons, many of the men in our prisons have missed out on education and the opportunities that an education offers. We currently have twenty men engaged in the intensive literacy and numeracy programme. Tuition is delivered by staff, outside providers and by volunteers.”

Daryl says that Invercargill Prison is known for its focus on ongoing education. Currently thirty prisoners are undertaking Self Directed Learning through the Open Polytechnic, Open Wananga, Te Kura, Southern Institute of Technology and Total Learning Connexion. The men are studying a diverse range of subjects from small business to agriculture, English and maths, and business studies.

“It is great to see these men making the most of their sentence, improving their knowledge and achieving qualifications that can give them other options towards an offence-free lifestyle on release,” says Daryl.

“We look at each course on its merits and whether it’s possible to be safely delivered in our prison environment. Currently three prisoners have been enrolled with Southern Institute of Technology to study Level 4 Small Business Management and two will then follow on to study Agri-business. These are the first prisoners at our site who will be able to access the restricted online courses.”

“Many will leave with a student loan and no access to the internet, so that can prove challenging in some cases. But they are determined to achieve a qualification and create a different future. That is worth supporting. This business course is the first time we will offer these online courses.”

Programmes aimed at developing useful life skills are delivered at various times. Recently, nine men participated in a new ‘Skills for Dads’ programme. This recognised that a large proportion of men in prison are fathers and many of these men have had little guidance about the responsibilities of fatherhood and what it means to be a good dad.

“Programmes like this are about both this generation and the next,” says Daryl. “Many of our men haven’t had the benefit of a positive older male role model in their life. These programmes have a positive ripple effect across families and in the community.”

The prison has a group of prisoners sewing for various not for profit community groups and projects. A long standing relationship with Invercargill Scouts has resulted in over a thousand white scarves being delivered to Murihiku Scouts.

Other recent projects have included the delivery of the first fifty reusable shopping bag handles to the Pantry.

The Pantry is a local store, owned and operated by local charity, South Alive. It provides vital funding for South Alive to become self-sufficient, work experience and a place for people new to Invercargill who want to make connections.

The Pantry also provides reusable cloth shopping bags which have been sewn by local volunteers. The handles of the bags are difficult to sew, so the sewing team from Invercargill Prison offered to help out, completing fifty to date, with more fabric being provided for more handles.

“These interventions all support change for the men and this is crucial for them, their families and everyone else in the community.” “As a community we can help too by reinforcing and supporting this life change, seeing past the conviction and helping these men who are committed to change to be a positive part of the community again and sustain their new life.”