Several Waikato community groups are benefiting from the green-fingers of prisoners at Waikeria Prison.
The prisoners are learning basic horticulture skills through Corrections Inmate Employment (CIE).
Waikeria Prison Manager Paul O’Byrne says that every week garden produce is gifted when available to Te Whakaruruhau Women’s Refuge, the Salvation Army Food Bank, RSA and to several rest homes.
Paul says individual prison units have donated produce from their gardens to community groups for some time, but it is only recently that every prison garden has contributed produce in a coordinated way.
“During the summer our six units can produce three to four crates of vegetables a week and even during winter we can often manage one crate a week.”
The prisoners grow a wide range of vegetables, a selection of herbs, and maintain plants used for landscaping around the prison.
“The community groups we help have been very appreciative of our assistance, on one delivery we even got grateful hugs for our efforts.
“The fact that worthy groups are receiving the produce is also having a positive effect on the prisoners. It gives them the opportunity to do something meaningful for other people during their time in prison.
“The prisoners get a sense of pride from their efforts, every week one prisoner asks us how many families the vegetables they’ve grown will feed.
“Giving back something to the community is a positive outcome. It’s positive for the prisoners who, in addition to learning new skills, see their hard work benefiting many deserving people.”
CIE's Horticulture Instructor at Waikeria Gary Geurts says approved prisoners take part in raising the vegetables from seeds, they also learn the skills and responsibilities involved with operating a nursery, including plant propagation, plant maintenance, weed and pest control and how to monitor the growth of different plant species.
Prisoners working within the gardens receive training and work towards gaining a NZQA National Certificate in Horticulture (Level 2), which will increase their chance of finding work on release.
Currently 40 prisoners at Waikeria are working towards NZQA qualifications.
Gary says the training aspect provided by the gardens is very important.
“Prisoners who find suitable employment on release are less likely to re-offend and by providing training in horticulture, where there is a market need for workers, their chance of finding work in the future will increase.”
Gary says the example of one of the prison’s gardeners demonstrates the positive changes that can be achieved.
“This prisoner is now passionate about gardening and he’s trying to learn as much as possible about organic gardening in particular. On release he wants to gain employment in the horticulture industry and also to use his skills to help feed his whanau.”
Waikeria Prison also has traditional Maori gardens, which grow a range of produce including Maori potatoes, kumera and kamo kamo. The Maori Focus Unit manager is also sourcing the ancient types of seeds and methods used by local Maori, which is incorporated into the kaupapa of the unit for the men.
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