Release-to-Work programme gives prisoners a hand-up
A careers expo was hosted recently at the Auckland Regional Women's Corrections Facility (ARWCF). In the last two years Corrections have found jobs for 900 offenders. About 40% were placed in jobs directly on release from prison.
Corrections Deputy Chief Executive Joe Field says the department recognises that education and employment can be life changing for women and their dependents. Women make up about 7% of the total prison population in New Zealand.
"We know that education and employment are life changing for their women and their children. There's a number of education, polytechs, and universities today which prepare them for employment."
Lee, a low risk prisoner, is one of many employed from ARWCF through the release-to-work programme. She has been working for The Warehouse for the last five months and says the programme is helping her get ready for post-prison life while also earning minimum wage.
"I've learnt how to adapt to society very well. I encourage a lot of women to take the chance and grab it because it's the best thing that can ever happen to you."
She also says that she feels she has gotten her mana back, and looks forward to working every morning.
"I wake up every morning and I look forward to coming into work. I've saved a lot since I've been here, this has been a whole eye opener. I love working and I love earning that real cash. I never really had any experience in the clothing industry but it's a good opportunity for other woman who haven't had experience and need experience."
For the last seven years The Warehouse has been a main employer for Corrections who have had about 70 women come through the programme. Sue Green, Operations Manager at the apparel distribution centre for The Warehouse, says it is about giving prisoners a second chance at life and helping to contribute to the well-being of the community.
"We are trying to stop any re-offending and if we can give people a second chance to start a new life and have a job, grow confidence then we are giving back to the community in a positive way."
Ex-female inmate Irene Whittaker endorses the careers expo and the transformative effect employment can have on the lives of ex-prison inmates.
"From my experience coming in and out of prison, today there is an opportunity and it's massive. There are so many services in the expo that can not only offer the information, they can support these wāhine upon release to go to the education that would absolutely change their lives."
Inmates find out in the next couple of months will find out whether their applications for jobs have been successful.