From the General Manager's Office
Hello and welcome to the third issue of Community Works for 2011.
One of our offenders based in the depths of the South Island has recently come to my attention as an example of many who have successfully worked their way through their community work sentence.
The Service Manager involved said “Zoe (not her real name) has really turned her life around from initially being a very difficult and non-compliant offender to someone who is taking much more pride in the life she leads.”
Let’s take a look at Zoe’s journey…
“I first got into trouble when I was 17; my stepfather pleaded guilty to events that still affect me. I’m 35 now and I’ve been involved with Corrections for the last 18 years – this last four years I’ve been doing Community Work – clearing bike tracks, cleaning in/outside churches, jobs at the bike club, etc.
After I’d finished my allotted hours of Community Work, I was sent on a motivation course as part of my Intensive Supervision. The course lasted an hour a week for six weeks. The instructor, Bindi, taught me skills to not be so angry about the things that have happened in the past. I’m now far more conscious of my actions and reactions. Bindi taught me how to recognise when I’d go into the defensive mode – I have learnt how to switch the ‘negativity mode’ off – since it was working like a domino effect on my life.
After some inner searching and research I now forgive myself and others. The motivation course taught me to not let myself get carried away, and not let my ego take over.
I’m now the person I should have always been! Bindi has taught me how to be a better person. Now, the smallest thing I could conceive as doing wrong, like speeding, I don’t do anymore. I do everything right now.
The Community Work staff were really lovely people – they treated me like a nice human being rather than a criminal. I hadn’t seen them for years, but they remembered my face and name.”
When we thanked Zoe for her time taken to speak with us for the column, Zoe said it’s the least she could do. “Taxpayers and the Government have spent money and energy on me to help me change my life.”
I believe that Zoe isn’t a ‘one-off’; that we are managing to change the lives of a large number in our community.
As always, we’re constantly looking for new and worthwhile projects, so please let us know if you think we can help your community. The details of your local CPS Service Centre are in the White Pages under the Department of Corrections (under the blue Government Department pages).
Katrina Casey, General Manager, Community Probation Services
Mid-winter coastal clean-up
A massive coastal clean-up in Gisborne in late August helped to remove over 7,800 litres (well over a tonne) of rubbish.
The charity Sustainable Coastlines delivered an educational roadshow (similar to one they undertake in schools) to 45 offenders and staff at the Gisborne CPS Service Centre one Saturday morning. Then, following the presentation, a health and safety overview was provided and personal protective equipment was handed out with a caution to beware of dangerous items. (This was fortunate, as aside from glass and other very sharp objects, animal organs, heads of deer and other animal parts were found…)
Then, the actual clean-up of approximately one-and-a-half kilometres of coastline, from the Waipaoa River and towards the Gisborne township began – taking approximately two-and-a-half hours.
It’s a very well-used part of the coastline of huge historical interest with much surfing, surf-casting and plenty of ornate grasses surrounding the area.
The presentation motivated the offenders enough to remove huge amounts of rubbish from the area near the river. “I had no idea that plastic was poisoning our kaimoana and whanau, bro,” said one offender as he filled up sacks of rubbish. “I’m not going to drop it ever again for sure.” Other offenders were keen to participate in a clean-up closer to the coast where they lived.
Senior Community Work Supervisor Bill Taiapa says the offenders were very enthusiastic about the work. “Following the speech made by the Sustainable Coastlines representative, the guys actually stood up and clapped – it was absolutely exceptional to see!”
Sustainable Coastlines’ formula clearly works. They have shared their educational roadshow with over 2,700 students in the region; they then take hundreds out to clean up the coast; first explaining why it is important not to let plastic enter the marine environment.
Following the clean-up, everyone returned to the Service Centre to begin the audit. All the rubbish was separated into plastics, tin, glass, household items, collated, and then weighed.
The extensive auditing exercise counted 8,571 individual pieces of rubbish removed. This included 2,121 pieces of food packaging and 1,097 plastic bottles, showing a mixture of rubbish that had washed up from the sea, down from the river following recent heavy rains and also significant volumes being dumped on the beach.
“It was a good learning curve, especially for the younger offenders who hadn’t realised how rubbish impacted on food gathering at the beach,” said Bill Taiapa.
“The idea of Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) has resonated deeply in people while cleaning up this beautiful coastline,” says Sam Judd, Co-founder of Sustainable Coastlines. “This formula provides a huge opportunity for offenders, school students and others to learn about coastal protection, share the knowledge with their peers and give something back to the community with solid, quantifiable results that they can be proud of.”
A $1,000 grant from Corrections has helped purchase an industrial vacuum cleaner for The Abilities Group on the North Shore.
Community groups can apply for up to $1,000 from Corrections in any one year. The money needs to either help with the cost incurred by agencies in supervising community work offenders, or go towards the purchase of equipment that will in some way allow the agency to use offenders to complete work for them.
Senior Community Work Supervisors or Probation Officers assess each offender to decide how they should carry out their sentence. Sentences can either be undertaken within a Corrections work party, or under supervision of an approved community agency such as the Salvation Army, The Abilities Group, Awataha Marae, local Churches and schools or a whole host of other agencies based around the country.
Offenders sent to work with agencies are generally of lower risk, their offending not being of a serious nature. Such offenders are monitored by agency staff and their case management meetings are either held at the centre or the agency.
The Abilities Group employs 120 people with disabilities at their North Shore warehouse. “There’s a real sense of community, the offenders work alongside employees to undertake work such as recycling projects, secure destruction, shrink wrapping and packaging - you name it!” says Service Manager Elizabeth Gregory.
“We try to utilise the offenders’ background and skills, and match them up to the work we’ve got on hand,” explains Peter Fraher from The Abilities Group.
Abilities has recently provided an ex-offender with a full-time job. “A second ex-offender has asked to work with us, too,” says Peter. “In an unexpected way these offenders have actually enjoyed working here. The work was beneficial to them and to us - it’s a two-way thing.” Working with disabled people has also been an eye-opener for the offenders.
Meanwhile, the new vacuum cleaner works like magic! “It handles the vast amounts of dust and very fine particles extremely well,” says Peter.
Judges stay in touch
Judges in the Wellington suburb of Porirua spend a lot of time engaging with their community; and believe that the community has much to offer the Court. Judge Jan Kelly and Judge John Walker have been working to apply the principles of community justice centres to the existing court at Porirua. “The court has become more engaged with the community it serves,” says Judge Kelly.
Judges Kelly and Walker are often to be seen at public meetings and visiting various services – including community work sites – to ensure they stay in touch with what’s happening ‘out there’.
Judge Walker says courts need to be seen as relevant to the community and a very important part of this is that the community see that sentences such as community work actually do benefit the community. “We often say that an offender needs to put something back into the community, but unless this actually happens they can be empty words.
“If community work can support projects of community significance then not only does the community benefit, but offenders have a sense of achievement and contribution. Cutting gorse or building a walkway for generations to use – that’s the difference,” says Judge Walker.
The judges also have a good working relationship with Porirua/Kapiti Community Probation Services and participate in regular meetings with the Service Managers. The Porirua District Court has separate court lists for dealing with breaches of community based sentences. These ‘Breach Courts’ are an important part of the Court at Porirua to ensure consistent messages are sent to community work offenders about their sentence requirements.
Nelson Railway Society
Refurbishing a 106-year-old railway carriage; including scraping and sanding the timber; then painting it, has been a rewarding project for a group of Nelson offenders.
Every Saturday for the last 10-12 years, between four and 16 offenders have been involved in the work which also includes maintaining, re-laying and other general work on the tracks; as well as laying sleepers.
A handful of offenders who have spent time on this project have asked to serve subsequent sentences at this particular site.
Creating a stimulating environment in Pukehina
Community work at Pukehina EduCare, Te Puke, started back in January 2010, when a vision to set up a pre-school which would feed into the next-door primary school became a reality.
The ex-storage building was sanded, painted and wallpapered by offenders. The outdoor area was created “using lots of ideas but little money!” says Lin Jones, EduCare’s Head Teacher. “A commercial fence was erected then enhanced with a native garden area, flower and vegetable gardens laid out and equipment including a revamped see-saw, tyre vehicles, a log obstacle course and tyre sandpit put in place.”
Since completing this original set-up, offenders have worked on-site every Saturday since, wiping surfaces, cleaning and tidying. Resources are sorted and new literacy or numeracy resources are made up (often painted on plywood). Outdoors, the vegetable and flower beds are maintained, weeds are eradicated, carpentry and waterplay equipment is sorted.
Then, over the long summer break, an enormous deck, nine by twelve metres was erected. Lin says the deck wouldn’t have been possible without the building expertise of Corrections Department Supervisor Arno Spee, and the labour provided by the offenders.
Supervisor Arno Spee is a builder by trade, and drew up plans for the deck. The school applied for and received funding from Pub Charities, and a team of offenders went to work with a vengeance. Arno explains “only the guys with a true aptitude for building are involved in the construction side of a project like this. The guys got a real buzz from building something of worth and were truly proud of their achievements.”
The area improves the flow of indoor and outdoor play for the children and enhances the outdoor environment.
Offenders laid a considerable amount of concrete around the deck to create a carpentry area, and “the mural created by one offender is a favourite talking point to show off to all our visitors” says Lin.
Other work has included refurbishing and painting an old kauri classroom; building four picnic tables and chairs and creating a stepping-stone area. “The current project is building a very upmarket chicken coop,” explains Arno.
The staff are extremely proud of their centre in its beautiful rural setting in the grounds of a country school. Pukehina EduCare is a community trust, where the intention is to provide educational scholarships within the community, rather than to make any financial profit. “We are continually grateful for the assistance we receive from the Department and appreciate the positive relationship we have established with their staff and the willingness we experience with the offenders” Lin says.
There is immense pride for Arno also, as two of his ex-offender team members are currently studying building at Tauranga Polytechnic.
Timber Museum's journey to the past
The New Zealand Timber Museum, in Putaruru, South Waikato, has been a regular and popular site for community work over the last two - three years.
The museum sits on a site of substantial bush. A great deal of the community work has involved clearing the bush to re-establish the walking track which had been unusable for many years. A vast amount of undergrowth, including blackberry, blue-gum, privet trees and bamboo was cleared, and, as Community Work Supervisor Carl Jacobs explains “sometimes it took one full day to clear just a couple of feet of track.”
All non-native trees were cut down before offenders laid crushed concrete to seal the track. “The kauri and rimu trees were overcrowded and couldn’t grow properly, due to all the introduced trees getting in the way.”
The thinning and removal of dangerous trees in the museum grounds by the offenders, some of them experienced bushmen who were comfortable using chainsaws, was also very useful. The large trees were pruned and cut; then the wood was split and delivered to elderly people in the community for firewood.
Offenders have also spent a lot of time archiving materials and then cleaning the museum exhibits and packing them away into storage while the museum is closed for renovations. Other offenders prepared the machinery before painting it.
Further work on the site will include putting steps and handrails for walking track users and uncovering a rediscovered old sawdust pit, so that it can be displayed.
The museum showcases the history of the timber industry in the South Waikato. The district’s connection with the forestry industry dates back to the turn of last century; the museum itself was established in 1972 to celebrate, record and preserve the history of the timber industry.
Ed Mercer, Trustee of the Museum says the constructive work that the offenders are being given “will go some way to establishing a sense of pride in themselves and their community.”
Carl says the vast majority of offenders are quite proud of what they’ve done, “some of them return and undertake voluntary work in their spare time. They can see their achievements as they drive past the site.”