Nathan works through release details with Ray.One of the first Canterbury offenders to benefit from a new Corrections’ reintegration programme, Guided Release, will be released in the next couple of next weeks.

The Guided Release reintegration support programme began in September last year and is one of a range of programmes and contracted services Corrections has in place for people completing their prison sentences or being released on parole and returning to their communities.

Through Guided Release, Corrections staff take identified offenders outside the wire in the lead up to their release to help them get aspects of their new lives in order.

“Release from prison is a challenging time for those at the end of their sentences and wishing to maintain a crime-free lifestyle,” says John MacClure, Principal Case Manager, Canterbury Prisons. “Research shows that 44.2% of people released from prison are reconvicted within the first 12 months of their release.

“Guided Release increases the chances of successful reintegration by getting things like accommodation, job, identification, welfare support underway so offenders have a better chance of making it through the first few months after release.

“This is not something we can do alone,” says John. “All Corrections reintegration work involves a whole of community approach and wide-ranging support from government and community groups, businesses and individuals from across the community.”

Those eligible for Guided Release are long-serving prisoners with an identified reintegrative need and who meet the criteria for temporary release from prison. (They are minimum security prisoners who are serving a sentence of more than 24 months and have reached their parole eligibility date; or were sentenced to imprisonment prior to 1 July 2002 for a serious violent offence and are within 12 months of their sentence end date. Also eligible are all low and low medium security prisoners who have a release date set by the New Zealand Parole Board.)

Ray* (not his real name) is in his mid-30s and completing his second prison sentence for driving while disqualified.

“I am really positive about my release,” he says. “I have been out with my Case Manager to get a number of things in place.”

Since being on the Guided Release programme, Ray has already been on a couple of outings from the prison with his Case Manager Nathan Tipuna. These include a job interview and, this week, he will open a bank account which will also offer him a form of legal identification. This is essential for life in the community and often one of the most challenging items for people leaving prison to access.

“Moving back into the community can be really hard”, says Nathan. “Many people are walking into the unknown. No matter how prepared they think they are, the majority of people will confront financial and emotional challenges and concerns relating to moving back in with family, finding accommodation and a job. Through guided release we start working with people early, while they still have the stability of prison, food and shelter.”

Ray knows the challenges of remaining crime free and moving back into the community, but is determined to succeed.

“I’m feeling really positive about my release. Last time I was in prison I just acted the goat.” he says. “Then I came out, did the same thing again and went back to prison. This time I am doing everything to make it work. I’m going to reconnect with my family. I’m not coming back.”

Over the past couple of years, Ray has completed a Drug and Alcohol programme, and gained industry qualifications and work experience in engineering, timber processing and stockmanship.

Prison staff have noticed a big change in him, his attitude, his commitment and his confidence.

“Improved reintegration outcomes for people who have served, or are on, a sentence or order, makes for happier families and also happier, safer communities,” says Nathan, “and that has to be good for everyone.”

“Ray has taken every opportunity to put things in place to support his change of lifestyle. He has committed to his family and is re-establishing his relationship with his children, he is committed to his new employment and the employer who has given him another chance; he has the tools and drive to continue living drug free; and he has a bike for transport to work so he won’t be driving unlicensed.”

“He has the things in place that will help him positively reintegrate back into the community and put his past well behind him,” says Nathan.

Research shows that there are six main concerns to be addressed for prisoner reintegration: employment (engaging in sustainable employment), accommodation (long term sustainable accommodation), skills for life (the skills to cope with pro-social day to day living when in the wider community), oranga/wellbeing (maintaining spiritual, personal and cultural well being), education and training (the training and qualifications to support sustainable employment) and whanau (family) and community support (having positive whanau and/or community support).

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*Name changed to protect his privacy and support his reintegration.