The plant nursery at Tongariro The nursery at Tongariro Prison is currently bursting with 13,000 new trees and shrubs awaiting relocation as part of an Industry training programme for the Department of Conservation.

Germinating and growing the seedlings, which are provided by DOC, helps contribute towards one of many meaningful activities available in a working prison environment.

“We are proud of the work we do in the industries space,” said Assistant Prison Director Scott Walker. “The prisoners work really hard to fill these types of orders for DOC and they learn a lot about horticulture on the way. You can see what they have achieved through the health of the plants the sense of achievement I see on their faces, “ he said.

In 2017, all 18 prisons in New Zealand are set to become fully engaged working prisons and Tongariro, one of the first in the country, began the working prison journey back in December 2014.

A working prison must engage prisoners for 40 hours per week with activities in treatment, learning, industry and other programmes in preparation for release and reintegration. Tongariro aims to deliver around 650,000 hours of activities in 2017 including developing and expanding their relationship with DOC on conservation projects.

“If we are serious about reducing reoffending, we have to teach prisoners skills that match the job market and in New Zealand that means horticulture, agriculture and farming. We not only equip them with the right skills, but we offer health and safety training and industry best practice. That means they walk on a job, stay safe and make a real contribution,” said Scott.

Prisoners at Tongariro have been germinating and growing seeds for DOC for over 4 years and their plants and trees are now spread across the region. Nursery plants are part of a horticulture industry that accounts for over 8% of New Zealand’s export market. The entire industry, which includes crops like grains, fruit and vegetables and wine, is valued at over $7 billion dollars annually including domestic sales and that is set to top $10 billion by 2020.

“When you are talking about the high number of seeds our prisoners are taking care of, it is easily transferrable to a working in a commercial nursery. Apart from the wealth of knowledge from our instructors, prisoners also benefit from working with the DOC staff and what those guys don’t know about growing healthy plants is probably not worth knowing,” Scott said.