A vibrant group of Pacific women who teach traditional weaving to prisoners at Spring Hill Corrections Facility received a top prize at the Arts Access Awards 2015.

Mary Ama and the Pacifica Mamas work at the prison’s Pacific Focus Unit (Vaka Fa’aola). They come together to share stories and their skills of weaving, lei and tapa making.

From left: Felix Foxx, Mary Ama and Tiana Epati with Corrections Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga.The Mamas, aged from 60 to 80, received the Arts Access Corrections Community Award 2015 for their energy, passion and commitment to the Pacific community.

The men in the Unit take part in ‘Saili Matagi’, a group-based programme which teaches a range of skills so that participants can change attitudes and behaviours and reduce the likelihood of re-offending. The programme involves family and community groups in the prisoners’ rehabilitation and reintegration and connects back to their Pacific identity.

Each Saturday morning they work on arts and crafts, including traditional weaving, with Mary Ama and the Pacifica Mamas. As well as learning new skills, the men use recycled materials which teaches them about the importance of protecting the environment and employment opportunities.

The award judging panel commended the Mamas for using recycling and was impressed by the quality of the weaving. “This initiative succeeds in reconnecting the prisoners with their cultural heritage as well as their wider community.”

Meanwhile, Waikeria Prison received the Arts Access Corrections Leadership Award 2015 for the impressive range of arts activities undertaken by the prison over the last year.

Recent highlights for Waikeria Prison include the publication of a poetry book, Nga Kupu o Manawataki – Rhythm of Words, an impressive series of carving projects, and a collaboration between the prison, Police, Community Corrections and local artist Ann Byford. This partnership produced a series of paintings which led to the publication of Messages from Within, Journey from Dark to Light.

“Receiving this award is really the icing on the cake and is formal recognition of everyone who has contributed in some way, either large or small in the completion of each of the art projects undertaken,” Prison Director Kevin Smith says.

Northland Region Corrections Facility (NRCF) was highly commended for using the arts as a tool to assist in the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders. The prison has a multidisciplinary arts programme involving two art tutors, several prisoner mentors and volunteer artists.

The annual Arts Access Awards celebrate the contribution of individuals and organisations which provide opportunities for people with limited access to engage with the arts.

Arts Access Aotearoa has a contract with the Department of Corrections to support and advise on its arts activities and programmes.