Every year volunteers make thousands of visits to prisons to help offenders learn new skills and reconnect with their communities.
“Volunteers are an essential part of the services and support delivered to offenders in prisons and in the community,” says Southern Regional Commissioner, Ben Clark.
“The volunteer programme provides a very real way in which people who want to make a positive impact on the lives of others and on the community can engage in changing lives.”
This year, two South Island volunteers are being recognised by Corrections, as part of National Volunteer Week, for the time they give to Canterbury prisons. National Volunteer Week runs from 18 June to 24 June 2017 and is New Zealand's largest celebration of volunteering.
The two are literacy tutor Beverly Iremonger and barista tutor Vanessa Clements. They are two of nearly a thousand people registered as volunteers with the Department of Corrections, helping offenders in prison and Community Corrections sites learn new skills.
Beverly is a Howard League literacy volunteer at Christchurch Women’s Prison and Christchurch Men’s Prison Youth Unit. She has been supporting prisoners with their literacy needs for over two years. Before retirement, Beverly was a nurse and initially was a little apprehensive about volunteering to help people with their reading in prison, especially as she had not come from a teaching background.
Since starting volunteering, Beverly has supported more than 15 prisoners with their literacy needs. She is currently supporting two prisoners for five hours per week.
Vanessa is a volunteer barista tutor at Christchurch Women’s Prison. A café owner herself, Vanessa is happy to share her knowledge, helping prisoners gain barista skills for potential future employment in a café.
She was approached by Corrections after the women’s prison was donated a coffee machine by the Zonta Club of Ashburton. Vanessa delivers unit standards in barista training and is a qualified assessor. Vanessa has completed two programmes and eight prisoners have learnt barista skills.
“Beverly and Vanessa are making a real difference in terms of the skills they offer the offenders they work with,” says Mr Clark.
“The offenders learn not just these skills, but that they can learn and achieve, and that someone believes they can do this. The self-belief is often as important to their change as the specific skills they are learning.
“Apart from new skills and qualifications, the most powerful positive effect from volunteer engagement is the way in which it changes an offender’s view of the community and their place in that community.
“They begin to see themselves as contributing members of the community, they can see that a person from the community is interested in their future and they begin to open up to new options and opportunities for themselves and their families.”
Volunteers in prisons and the community offer wide ranging opportunities in areas such as literacy and numeracy education, art, life skills, cooking and budgeting, hobbies and activities, and reintegration support.
Vanessa encourages other people to think about what they can offer those in prison who are looking for a new start.
“I know from experience that I am passing on a skill that has a very broad range of employment options. There are a lot of potential job opportunities once released.”
She says a criminal history would not be a deterrent to her as an employer.
“When I’m hiring staff I’m looking for anybody with a great attitude, enthusiasm, who is friendly to all customers, and has a willingness to learn and work hard.”
“To bring about a significant reduction in re-offending, and therefore safer communities, requires the engagement and support of the community,” says Ben.
“This isn’t something Corrections can do on its own. It requires a whole of community approach. National Volunteer Week is a great time to recognise the contribution of this special group of people.”