Across the country, staff and offenders are involved in a wide range of activities to bring some Christmas cheer to the community for the holidays.

“These projects range from the creation of gifts for community groups in need to growing food for charity Christmas events,” says Corrections Deputy National Commissioner Rachel Leota. “They enable offenders and staff to contribute positively and give back to their communities.”

Each year, Community Corrections sites and prisons around thecountrydonate fresh produce from community and prison gardens to local food banks. The sites donate produce year round, but the offenders who help pick the produce work especially hard during the holiday season to help make Christmas celebrations easier for those in need.

Prisoners at Auckland Prison have been spreading Christmas cheer by donating fresh produce to the Salvation Army to give to people in need and 16 refurbished bicycles have been delivered to the Hestia Rodney Women's Refuge Service to place in special Christmas stockings for children in need.

Central Region prisons and service centres are collecting canned goods, non perishables and fresh seasonal fruit to donate to local charities.

At Gisborne Community Corrections staff contributed tin food, toys and treats to a make up a Christmas cheer package that will be distributed to local families by Plunket.

Children of offenders will receive a handmade goodie bag of Christmas treats when they accompany a parent to New Plymouth Community Corrections for a virtual visit via audio-visual link with mum or dad who is in prison, when their parent reports in to the site or when a probation officer makes a home visit to see their parent.

For the 3rd year running, Manawatu Prison will decorate theirvisits centre in a Christmas theme and host a prisoner family day with help from the Prisoners' Aid and Rehabilitation Society (PARS). Children will be given a photo frame to decorate on the day and can have their photo taken with dad to go in the frame.  Other activities include face painting and arts and crafts.  Prisoners in the kitchen will be making gingerbread men for guests on the day, PARS is putting a gift bag for kids together and, of course, Santa will be making an appearance.

Prisoners are getting involved in a number of Christmas activities at Otago Corrections Facility (OCF). Prisoners taking part in the prison’s carpentry training programme have been making toys for local children for Christmas. So far, the participants have created around 200 wooden planes, trains, cars, dolls cradles, hobby horses and puzzles. Meanwhile in the kitchen, prisoners completing a National Certificate in Baking, have baked 50 small Christmas cakes and numerous delicious Christmas themed gingerbread bites and donated them to the local Milton Eldercare facility.

Rolleston Prison and Christchurch Men’s Prison gardens have been growing vegetables and fruit for charity Christmas lunches in the city. Rolleston Prison contributes produce to the City Mission lunch and Christchurch Men’s Prison to the Help for the Homeless Christmas hangi.

Offenders at Dunedin’s Percy Street Community Corrections site are making Christmas gifts for those in need as part of their community work sentences. They are undertaking a wide range of projects that will benefit local children, not for profit groups and the elderly. These include story book packs for the Women’s Refuge, wooden Christmas trees for Dunedin Public Hospital’s children’s wards and Christmas trees and wheat bags for the elderly.

In prison on Christmas day, prisoners will prepare 10,000 meals of roast chicken, gravy, roast potatoes, carrots, green peas, two slices of bread, and an apple pie, in line with nutrition guidelines recommended by the Ministry of Health.

The main Christmas meal will be provided at lunchtime, with sandwiches given in the evening.  As with any other day, vegetarian and other special dietary requirements will also be catered for.

The average cost of feeding a prisoner is approximately $5.30 per day. This is no different on Christmas Day.

Many of the prisoners who work in the kitchens are also able to work towards achieving national qualifications in hospitality, baking and catering.

“Working in the kitchen gives the men and women a skillset they can use to gain employment upon their release,” says Mrs Leota. “We know that having stable employment reduces the likelihood of reoffending.”

On Christmas Day prisoners can take part in a number of activities, including sports, puzzles, quizzes and arts.

“We appreciate that this can be a hard time for both prisoners and their families,” says Mrs Leota. “Many prisoners are separated from their families and friends who are in different parts of the country and as such we do our best to ensure this time is recognised appropriately.”

They are able to use the arts and crafts skills they have learnt through programmes in prison to create handmade gifts. “A number of charities, such as Pillars and Prison Fellowship, work with us to help make this time easier for the families of prisoners,” says Mrs Leota. “Maintaining family ties and support networks plays a vital role in helping with rehabilitation and reintegration so it’s important that they are able to be included on the day.”