Ms Helen Clark (centre) in discussion with one of the graduates, a grandmother of seven. Looking on is volunteer tutor, Julie France (right).“Being literate is one of the most important skills to have for a better foundation in life,” Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, said at a  prisoners’ literacy graduation at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility (ARWCF) on 30 June 2015.

“Many people in our prisons have not had the chance to learn to read, but the Howard League literacy programme forms part of the solution. Your literacy skills will equip you for further opportunities, and enable you to help your children and grandchildren,” Ms Clark said in her address to the six graduates.

The visit to ARWCF was Ms Clark’s second. Almost nine years ago to the day, Ms Clark opened the then newly built corrections’ facility when she was Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Among the graduates was a 50-year-old grandmother of seven who said she “didn’t go to school much”.

She was motivated to learn to read so she could help her grandchildren with their reading when she becomes due for release in September.

“The literacy course has helped me create a vision of what I want in life and who I really want to become,” another graduate shared with guests.

Between 50 and 70 per cent of prisoners are functionally illiterate.

“This means they cannot read the road code, find employment or fill in legal documents,” John Sinclair of the Auckland Howard League said.

“The Howard League’s literacy programme for prisoners, delivered at various sites across the country, tie in well with the Department of Corrections’ top priority of reducing re-offending by a quarter by 2017,” Jeanette Burns, Corrections’ Northern Regional Commissioner, said.

It was the first time the programme was conducted at ARWCF, with the six graduates attending weekly two-hour classes over 12 weeks.

In the northern region, the Howard League has 33 approved volunteer tutors delivering its literacy programmes in prisons.

“Teaching the prisoners literacy skills occurs in an environment with clear boundaries. The women’s new ability, however, opens up limitless possibilities,” one of the volunteer tutors, who wished to remain anonymous, said.