A new programme at Christchurch Men’s Prison Youth Unit is targeting high risk, violent youth offenders to help them turn their lives around.

The Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora programme is run over 42, two hour sessions, incorporating education, sport, and cultural activities.

“This programme is an important addition to the rehabilitation, education, training and other interventions currently offered to the young men in the unit,” says Youth Unit Principal Corrections Officer, Gary Smallridge.

The programme is especially directed at this small group who use violence as a solution to their issues. It is aimed at helping them develop their self-awareness, self-management and communication skills to manage their emotions and deal with difficult situations without resorting to violence.

“Many of the young men in our care have limited social and communication skills,” says Gary, “and a large number have been exposed to violence and/or grown up in environments where violence is normalised.”

Through the course of the programme, Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora participants will develop a range of strategies to reduce their chances of reoffending. These include learning how to identify their own triggers such as the impact of alcohol and other substances on their lives, managing their impulsive behaviours and safely expressing themselves in a more appropriate way. They will set future goals and develop skills to build stronger relationships with the people important to them.

Before being accepted on to the programme the young men are evaluated by a psychologist and must demonstrate that they are ready to put aside gang tensions, activities and hostilities and to work in a group.

The group is being run by Corrections’ Psychologists, Dr Heather Gordon and Siobhan Webby.

“Programmes like this assist youth in developing insight into previous patterns of offending and offer participants alternative, more appropriate, strategies on how to manage future high risk situations,” says Heather.

A major push in the unit is also for the young men to change their behaviour and get fit and healthy.

“This is important, especially young men, as it allows them the opportunity to set achievable goals, which often requires structure, determination and planning. Skills that will be beneficial and applicable to situations in the community,” she says.

The average prison sentence for a person in the unit is nine months, so the Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora programme is run as a rolling group and individuals can enter and exit the programme at different times.

“These young men are grappling with the usual physical, psychological, sexual and emotional growth challenges of youth, establishing their own identity and developing autonomy from their family/whanau. This is often done without the positive role models and supportive environments available to others their age while dealing with the consequences of their offending behaviour,” says Gary. “The more effort we place on successfully rehabilitating and reintegrating this group, the bigger difference we can make to the lives of these individuals, to their current and future families, and to the safety of the community as a whole.”