Horticulture instructor Kushla Glover prepares the OCF built tunnel house for seed germination.A new partnership between Corrections and Hokonui Marae will see prisoners from Otago Corrections Facility (OCF) help with the restoration of over 10,000 acres of Mataura wetland and native bush.

“Our organisations have been working on this project for a while and it is great to formally recognise the launch of this local partnership and regionally significant environmental project,” says Gill Brown, Assistant Prison Director Otago Corrections Facility.

More than 30 species of native grasses, shrubs and trees will be propagated for the Hokonui wetland using seed collected locally by iwi members.

The grasses will take about two years from seed to planting at the site. The plants will be germinated in the prison’s two shade houses and three glasshouses which will be built by the prison’s engineering unit and fitted out by prisoners learning carpentry.

“This is a significant project for Maori,” says Phil Ngeru, Corrections Area Adviser Maori for Otago/Southland/South Canterbury,  ”both for our people in the local community and here in the prison.”

“Returning the native bush to areas of wetlands will help encourage and increase the significant bird, fish and insect life as well as help filter the runoff from farmlands before it enters strategic waterways that are key to Maori sacred wellbeing. This project offers the opportunity to achieve these goals as well as providing a legacy for future generations.”

Prisoners on the project are also using their experience to gain unit standards toward a National Certificate in Horticulture.

The Hokonui Regeneration project gives prisoners employable skills which will open doors to employment in a wide range of industries associated with horticulture. Research shows a strong correlation between employment and offenders maintaining a crime-free life on release.

“Generally speaking our young Maori men don’t have very many skills,” says Rewi  Anglem of Hokonui Runanga, “so finding employment is hard. As a result, they tend to head for the bigger cities seeking employment away from their whanau.”

Offenders studying horticulture repot grasses for the project.“Therefore any skills that they gain, we want to use to grow our local economy and keep them close to home and whanau. It is these young men who we want to be our Kaumatua of the future and ensure we maintain and keep our traditions alive.”

Horticulture offers many opportunities for local employment, such as working in a nursery, in parks and gardens or in horticulture-based industries. It also provides learners with the know-how to grow fruit and vegetables for healthier life styles, useful skills they can share with friends and family members.

This is a win-win for the community. An important part of the local environment is rejuvenated and the offenders supporting the project are getting valuable work skills, aptitudes and experiences for employment.

Gill says that OCF is committed to this project for a long period. “We are talking with our colleagues at Community Corrections to see how local offenders on community sentence can get involved and perhaps support the planting of the grasses when they’re ready for planting.”

Corrections has set a challenging goal; a 25% reduction in reoffending. This is a goal that requires a whole of community approach. To achieve this, Corrections is working closely with local iwi, not for profit organisations, various service providers and key employers.