Corrections News Jan-Feb 2009
Chief Executive's comment
Welcome to our first 2009 edition of Corrections News.
As the new year unfolds I am looking forward to working with Hon Judith Collins, the new Minister of Corrections. I have known the Minister for a long time and I am keen to work closely with her to improve public safety, reduce re-offending and ensure sentence compliance.
A change in Government presents the opportunity to think about what we do, how we do it and if it can be done differently or better. The Minister has encouraged the Department to provide bold advice to her on how we manage offenders in ways that are more effective and less costly.
As you will have seen in the news, the world faces difficult financial times over the next few years. This will inevitably impact on Corrections but we will continue to think openly and creatively about ways to manage growing numbers of offenders in an environment with constrained resources.
I will be encouraging our staff to approach change with an open mind and to think about what is realistic within the context of tighter financial times. By doing so, they will be better placed to fulfil their duties as public servants to support our Minister.
I have also briefed the Minister on the Asian and Pacific Conference of Correctional Administrators (APCCA) held in Malaysia late last year.
It was very apparent that regardless of cultural and operational differences, Corrections facilities worldwide face similar issues and tell the same stories.
Drug and alcohol addiction is a case in point. Drugs fuel crime and prisons everywhere grapple with the problem. It’s also interesting to see that most jurisdictions are very focused on rehabilitation and that there is wide agreement that engaging families is a critically important part of the rehabilitation process.
APCCA is an important event on the Department’s calendar and for good reason. APCCA works. We saw this firsthand with Fiji which has adopted Singapore’s Yellow Ribbon reintegration programme they heard about at a previous conference. It involves a high level of participation and commitment from the communities that prisoners are released into.
We will be considering carefully the things we saw and heard at the conference and I‘m sure our fellow APCCA members will be doing the same. I remain confident that the New Zealand Department of Corrections provides a good service. I am proud of our emphasis on handling prisoners safely and humanely, reducing re-offending and ensuring that sentences and orders are complied with.
News in brief
Prisoners graduate from WelTec courses
Twenty-three prisoners have graduated from the first ever prison-based WelTec courses run at Rimutaka Prison. The 20-week courses in painting and maintaining small motors provided prisoners with credits that will count towards National Certificates in Painting level three and Motor Industry level two. Ten prisoners graduated from the painting course and 13 from the small maintenance motor maintenance course. Further courses are scheduled for the next three years.
Offenders help town in storm clean up
Fifteen Nelson offenders serving community work sentences helped the Nelson City Council clean-up the suburb of Stoke after hurricane force winds struck last winter.
Corrections hosts Swedish delegation
A Swedish delegation of 20 MPs and their Australian-based Ambassador visited the Department in January. The MPs, who formed the Swedish Parliament’s Committee on Justice, were researching Youth Crime and Organised Crime in Australia and New Zealand. The delegation was hosted by Chief Executive Barry Matthews at Head Office where a range of speakers presented to them. Following this, they visited the Maori Focus Unit and Violence Prevention Unit at Rimutaka Prison.
Improved access to birth certificates for prisoners approaching release
Corrections and Ministry of Social Development (MSD) staff have found a practical way to speed up prisoners’ access to bank accounts and benefits upon their release. An amendment to the Special Needs Grant Welfare Programme now enables eligible prisoners to apply to prison-based Work & Income staff for their birth certificate. Without identification released prisoners can’t apply for benefits or open bank accounts – a situation that can quickly lead them back to offending. Corrections and MSD are collaborating on a number of initiatives to support prisoners reintegrating into their community.
Managing gang members in Special Treatment Units
There’s no question that high numbers of gang members and gang affiliates pass through Corrections’ drug, violence and high risk behaviour Special Treatment Units (STUs).
When selecting participants, the psychological staff carefully consider a person’s gang affiliation and the implications this has for behaviour in the unit.
“We know that gang affiliations increase the risk of a prisoner re-offending so we’re very focused on encouraging the men to walk away from their gang lifestyles and we make no apologies for that,” says Special Treatment Units National Manager Steve Berry.
“Thankfully we do have some success. Some prisoners eventually see that life is easier and better if they remove themselves from the gang.”
However, doing so is a very difficult process for fully fledged members and affiliates alike. For some it means walking away from everything they know, including family and friends, and that takes courage.
To help them, STUs offer follow-up support which Principal Psychologist Paul Whitehead has a strong interest in. Paul was responsible for setting up an informal follow-up programme for high risk offenders released from Waikeria Prison’s Karaka STU in Te Awamutu.
Within a week of a prisoner’s release the unit holds a whanau hui, with the released man’s key family, probation and cultural support.
When spoken to in mid-July following five whanau hui Paul felt confident that they were a good first step to helping released men and their family understand the risks the men faced in terms of re-offending and their obligations to the conditions imposed.
Because the majority of men referred to STUs have gang connections the stakes are high. For example, to leave a gang usually requires permission. This in itself is a high risk situation for the men taking this step.
Paul’s scheme provides a weekly phone call to the prisoner plus further, smaller hui for six months following their release. Every agency involved in the six-month programme shares information.
Puna Tatari Special Treatment Unit at Spring Hill Corrections Facility is likely to follow this approach.
How does Corrections manage imprisoned gang members?
It’s often said that prisons mirror what’s happening in our communities. So with 30-plus gangs now operating in New Zealand, it makes sense that the prison population includes many gang members.
Gang involvement in the “P” industry, a significant increase in youth gangs and high profile murder cases involving gangs have heightened public awareness and caused people to ask: How does Corrections manage these most challenging of prisoners?
The answer is simple. The Department’s more recent and ongoing efforts to stop contraband entering prisons is having a profound impact.
The first step to managing imprisoned gang members is the induction interview. Every prisoner is interviewed at reception and it’s here where they often declare a gang affiliation. It’s not compulsory for gang members to identify themselves as such and recent trends show that only 20 to 25 per cent of prisoners do so.
Corrections Service Support Manager Karen Urwin says not only are gang members not always upfront about their affiliation but they sometimes change them once in prison. “Intelligence in our prisons keeps an eye on whether people do this,” says Karen.
A breakdown of offence types committed by imprisoned gang members has shown violence to be the most common offence. So last year, Corrections developed a comprehensive gang-related Organised Crime Strategy that was fed into the whole-of-Government approach to organised crime.
The 2007 murder of a child in Wanganui and growing concern among the public and politicians that gangs were posing an increasing danger to the community, including prisons, prompted the Government to establish a multi-department organised crime agency.
Initiatives directed at solving the issue have included the introduction of drug dogs, vehicle checks, body searches, cell searches, cellphone blocking and telephone monitoring.
More recent initiatives designed to address gang-related activities within prisons include heightened information gathering and subsequent collation and analysis to produce intelligence used to counter gang activities.
Prisons are gang-neutral environments
Prisons are managed as gang neutral environments. While Corrections is aware of gang affiliations, sentence management and the placement of prisoners is not determined by them.
However, prisoners can apply to be segregated if they believe other prisoners would pose a risk to them.
Gang colours are not allowed to be worn by prisoners or visitors. And prisoners are discouraged from gang involvement through the prohibition of gang-related insignia, drawings, clothing, posters or any other gang paraphernalia. The Department takes claims of gang intimidation in prisons very seriously.
“Corrections regularly and robustly monitors and investigates gang-related activities in prisons,” says Karen. “Intelligence is actively gathered as a means of ensuring the safety of staff and other prisoners and this has always been a key focus for Corrections.
“Corrections also fully co-operates with wider Police initiatives to address gang activities that interface with the Department’s responsibilities.”
Management of gangs in prisons
Q. Are gangs separated in prison to help avoid gang tensions?
A. Corrections considers gang affiliations when placing prisoners in units. However, it’s often unavoidable for members of different gangs to be housed together. If members of two different gangs are in one unit, Corrections does all it can to ensure one gang is not outnumbered by the other.
Q. Is there a concerted effort to prevent gang members from congregating in prison?
A. There are times when gang members are housed together in a unit. This will occur if they are assigned to the Drug Treatment Unit for example or if they work together in the kitchen.
Q. Does Corrections have systems in place for addressing gang-related activities in prison?
A. Corrections’ operational intelligence is based on best-practice models of intelligence seen in justice sector agencies such as Police and Customs, as well as overseas Corrections jurisdictions including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Q. Are gang members subject to increased searches to stop them organising crime while in prison?
A. Whether they are gang affiliated or not, if Corrections staff have concerns that any prisoner or visitor is involved in criminal activity they will be monitored with heightened vigilance.
Drug Treatment Unit turns one
Rimutaka Prison’s Drug Treatment Unit (DTU) celebrated its first birthday in October amid news that a record 45 prisoners had successfully completed the programme over the last year.
“Eleven of the 14 prisoners enrolled in the first intake, and 13 of the 15 enrolled in the second intake completed the programme successfully,” said Rimutaka Prison Manager Tony Howe.
“But while it’s great to achieve record results it’s not what we’re here to do. The DTU runs a very rigorous course and no one gets a free ride. The therapy and custodial staff work together to keep prisoners focused on the programme. If staff aren’t confident that a prisoner has completed part of the course satisfactorily they don’t graduate until they are up
“Sixty per cent of offenders are affected by alcohol or drugs at the time of their offending so it’s very clear that we need to get as many suitable prisoners into this programme as possible.”
Tony said the DTU’s intensive programme provides motivated prisoners with the tools to turn their lives around and address their addictions.
“The prisoners have to accept that they have a problem and they have to be willing to change. If they do neither it’s a waste of our time and money.”
The 24-week programme helps participants gain the skills and techniques that will help them remain drug free. Behavioural therapy, education on addiction and change, and recognition of the trigger points in their lives that could cause them to relapse are all part of the programme.
The Department contracts Care NZ to deliver the programme to six DTUs now established in New Zealand prisons.
“Care NZ and our staff have worked very hard with Rimutaka prisoners over the last year,” said Tony.
“Our aim is to rehabilitate these prisoners. Many coming here offend to fuel an addiction so if we succeed in rehabilitating them, hopefully they won’t re-offend when they’re released.”
Research has shown that prisoners who complete a Drug Treatment Unit course have re-offending rates 13 percentage points lower than prisoners who have not participated within two years of their release.
Service Development Manager Brendan Anstiss says, in line with the Government’s commitment to doubling the number of prisoners able to receive drug and alcohol treatment to 1,000 by 2011, Corrections is examining where additional DTUs should be located, and how they can offer different, but still effective services to other groups of prisoners such as short serving or remand prisoners.
Brendan says the Department is also working with other agencies such as Ministry of Health, and Police to improve offender’s access to mental health, alcohol and other drug services in prisons and the community.
Prisoners play key role in anti-violence campaign
It’s believed that 500,000 New Zealanders proudly pinned white ribbons on their chests to mark White Ribbon Day last November.
It was 85 prisoners serving sentences at Rimutaka Prison who made that possible.
In encouraging people to show they neither condone or tolerate violence towards women, the now widely supported annual event also enables prisoners to contribute to a cause many identify with as perpetrators.
While one group of prisoners cut and folded 60km of material to make the ribbons, another group working in the Wellington Prison Print Shop made the cards they were pinned to and boxed them for national distribution.
It was the fourth consecutive year that prisoners have been involved in the campaign and Corrections Inmate Employment Internal Services Manager Ruth Turner says it’s gaining momentum each year.
“The orders have grown from 50,000 in 2005 to 200,000 and 400,000 the following years.”
Ruth says the Department is proud to support a campaign that ties in strongly with Corrections’ vision.
“Corrections’ vision is to improve public safety by reducing re-offending. There are a number of people serving either prison or community based sentences because of violent crimes.
“Corrections aims to make our communities safer by helping offenders address the reasons behind their offending and providing them with skills to change their lives, to live a life without crime. This is achieved through a range of rehabilitation and reintegration initiatives.”
Ruth says prisoner employment is one such initiative that aims to reduce re-offending by providing prisoners with employment skills, training and formal qualifications while they are serving their prison sentence.
The last prison census shows that 55 per cent of prisoners did not have a job before entering prison and 52 per cent had no formal qualifications. Research shows that prisoners who find sustainable employment on release are less likely to re-offend.
“Introducing prisoners to basic employment skills through the White Ribbon project helps to build their work experience and attitude towards pursuing further employment and making positive changes in their lives,” says Ruth.
Community work parties praised for their flood restoration effort
There’s little sign today of the devastating floods that swept through North Canterbury farmland last year.
The debris-strewn paddocks, flattened fences, washed out culverts and floodgates that greeted farmers at the end of July and in August last year have been cleaned up, restored and returned to normal.
Many volunteers throughout the district pitched in, but it was also thanks to the efforts of offenders serving community work sentences, that the work could be completed before the searing summer sun arrived in late November.
Corrections played a pivotal role in what was one of the biggest clean-up operations ever organised in the Hurunui District and farmers are singing the praises of the 158 offenders involved.
The community work sentence requires offenders to do unpaid work as a way of providing reparation to the community they have offended against. Community Probation & Psychological Services Christchurch Area Manager Nick Scott says helping flood ravaged farmers out in their time of need was a fitting project for them to be involved in.
Nick says the offenders enjoyed being part of the process and some were clearly moved by the level of destruction.
Two van loads of offenders helped clean up farmer Jonny Ussher’s property and he couldn’t have been more grateful. They spent
five days clearing debris from fence lines and paddocks – back-breaking, monotonous work that would have taken Jonny weeks to do without help.
He was delighted with the quality of work and very impressed with the work supervisors who “were great to deal with”.
North Canterbury Rural Support Trust spokeswoman Barbara McDonald says many farmers had been hit by drought and an economic downturn the previous year so the floods couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Barbara saw some farmers in tears but as the clean-up work progressed their tears turned to smiles and her phone rang hot in the evenings with thank you messages.
“I know some of them had misgivings about having offenders on their properties but those misgivings soon disappeared when they saw the results. Having 10 men dedicated to the job at any given time was significant and the quality of their work was great.”
So long, Miss
What makes a successful corrections officer? According to recently retired Corrections Staff College Manager Janet Castell, it’s the ones who believe they can make a difference.
“They need to have a fundamental humanity if they want to make it in this job,” says Janet. “People who come into it for the wrong reasons are unsafe – for themselves, and their colleagues. If they have the wrong attitude they won’t succeed.”
Janet should know. In the two years since her appointment, 1,058 new recruits have passed through the gates to attend the college’s Initial Training Course (ITC).
As well as corrections officers, recruits include CIE instructors and Assets and Property staff whose duties include direct management of prisoners. Each has graduated with a thorough understanding of their role and the basic skills and knowledge needed to perform frontline core duties. Graduates are armed with clear guidelines for achieving the expected outcomes in the first six months of their career.
Janet comes from a military background and has run the facility with military precision. The former Arohata Prison Manager was seconded to the college in 2006. She quickly stamped her mark on the role, securing strong support for the college and in particular, for the Assessment Centre which Janet established.
The Assessment Centre sees experienced staff role-playing as prisoners in specific scenarios while recruits respond to the situation using the skills, techniques and insights learnt during the course. This allows Janet and her team to assess each recruit’s ability.
Christchurch-based Senior Corrections Officer “Rocky” Rockhouse has attended seven of the eight Assessment Centre courses, each time taking staff with him. Some were so committed they took annual leave in order to participate.
“I have played the prisoner and I have also been the team leader assessor,” says Rocky. “I believe the Assessment Centre concept is very beneficial to new staff. Students tell me they are very glad the initiative was put in place. They feel better prepared for their role and the training does deliver a better prepared, more confident recruit to the Department.”
Janet believes the college instils a sense of professionalism and integrity. “These virtues are at the heart of what makes an effective corrections officer,” she says. “The strength of the College is its place as a centre of excellence for the Department. It’s here where we embed these virtues into Prison Services.”
And what’s next for Janet? Quiet retirement, she says with a smile.
The Initial Training Course is a six-week residential course covering the wide diversity of what it means to be a frontline officer.
Along with learning the fundamental aspects of the job, such as safety standards, addiction awareness, gang management, control and restraint techniques and procedures for transferring and escorting a prisoner, corrections officers also learn about:
- relevant legislation
- communication and conflict resolution
- building professional and ethical relationships
- marae protocol
- the Treaty of Waitangi
- cultural diversity, and
- the role of the Ombudsman
Tikanga programmes make a difference
A recent evaluation of Corrections’ community-based Tikanga Maori programmes shows offenders with heightened awareness of their Maori heritage are more likely to choose offence-free lifestyles.1
Community Probation and Psychological Services National Adviser Maori Service Development Lawrence Tawera says the evaluation has shown that by encouraging offenders to increase their cultural knowledge and to reconnect with whanau the Tikanga Maori programmes are changing lives.
“For Maori, learning pepeha (identify) and whakapapa (family lineage) is about reaffirming a connection with their tribe, their ancestors, and their history,” says Lawrence.
One Auckland offender who doubted whether the programme would result in him questioning his lifestyle says he now feels a light was “switched on”.
Lawrence says probation officers (POs) involved in Tikanga Maori programmes are playing a critical role in their success.
“By making sure that offenders make it to sessions (some POs provide transport), checking on their progress, and attending graduation ceremonies the POs are sending strong signals to offenders that they value the courses highly.”
Community-based providers deliver tikanga (process in which something is done) programmes to offenders in prison and in the community. The facilitators are highly competent, knowledgeable and authoritative speakers on their local tikanga and kawa (protocol). While courses vary in terms of length, structure and content, they all focus on promoting participants’ understanding of Maori cultural values and involving whanau.
Offenders are encouraged to address their offending and to become positive role models for their dependants. Many course graduates speak about not wanting younger whanau members to experience a similar fate to theirs. “I want my kids to know who they are – not end up like me,” one said.
The partner of another participant spoke about how positive his behaviour had become – especially with his youngest son.
“He now supports this son’s sports and school activities when he can and he regularly emails our eldest son who lives in London.”
Lawrence says the tutors’ passion and enthusiasm for the programme has also been key. Participants said the tutors had created a great environment for learning and helping them expand their whakapapa knowledge with hikoi, marae visits, and research trips to the local library.
One Christchurch offender was very impressed with the tutors. “The environment, awhi (support) and aroha (love) is great. This course is massive and I have learnt so much,” he said.
An Auckland offender expressed his thanks to the tutors who he said had increased his knowledge and “awakened” him.
The ability to share thoughts and personal stories with other participants was also valued. A Palmerston North offender said “the bro’s on the course” had given him his inspiration.
Lawrence says two commonly reported outcomes of the course were offenders’ enduring motivation to cease offending and the fact some had signed on for further courses and placements to enable them to learn more about tikanga.
- Tikanga Maori programmes have been offered to Maori offenders for some years. Corrections conducted the evaluation to ensure that Tikanga Maori is succeeding in meeting the needs of Maori offenders and in reducing re-offending.
- Tikanga Maori programmes are an important building block within Corrections’ overall sentence management.
1: Underpinning the Department’s five-year Strategic Business Plan is the recognition that “to succeed overall we must succeed for Maori offenders”.
Corrections hosts its first national drug dog forum
Twelve dog handlers and eight highly trained dogs attended Corrections’ first national forum for its drug detection dog team late last year – an event held at the Prison Services Training Facility in Wellington.
Top of the agenda was the opportunity to discuss the role of drug dog handlers (now and into the future) and to ensure that consistent practices are applied nationwide.
The forum was also a valuable chance for dog handlers and their canine companions to network. While handlers do have good contact, many have not met in person.
Prisoners build e-learning centre from foundation up
Four Spring Hill Corrections Facility prisoners created history late last year completing the first building started from scratch in the prison’s onsite construction facility.
It took the men seven weeks to build Glen Massey School’s new e-learning centre – a project that extended to lighting, ventilation, energy efficiency and insulation.
Corrections Inmate Employment (CIE) Business Development Manager Win McDonald says the prisoners did the work under the guidance of PLB Construction – the company that won the tender to build the centre.
“The school principal was impressed with the quality of the work and very pleased to receive the much anticipated e-learning centre,” says Win. “Every one of the school’s students will benefit from it.”
Opened in July 2008, the prison-based construction facility includes an outdoor refurbishment yard and workshop which in time will employ more than 90 prisoners.
“We have a contract with Housing New Zealand to refurbish around 40 state houses a year,” says Win. “Nine instructors are teaching prisoners trade skills in painting, plastering, electricity, carpentry, plumbing and timber joinery.”
“We look forward to expanding our building construction programme at Spring Hill and welcome enquiries from anyone who thinks they might have a mutually beneficial business opportunity that CIE could assist with.”
What's new in the literature?
Do temporary releases reduce re-offending?
Temporary releases from prison are generally meant to lessen the impact of institutionalisation, facilitate transition into civilian life, and also help prisoners achieve offence-free lifestyles by strengthening or re-establishing family and social ties. This practice also potentially allows for offenders to make arrangements for accommodation and work.
The practice is widespread. For example, a survey of 49 correctional agencies in the US revealed that all but one had a formal re-entry programme in place. The majority of these programmes targeted job readiness, community resource, housing, and family reunification. The practice of temporary release in England and Wales is also growing, and in 2002 there were over a quarter of a million temporary release grants with the overwhelming majority of these being for family reasons.
Despite its widespread use in both North America and Europe, the question remains as to whether, and to what extent temporary release fulfils its intended aims, rehabilitative or otherwise.
Although this practice was condemned in the mid 1970s (along with almost every other rehabilitative initiative), little attention appears to have been paid to evaluating temporary releases up until comparatively recently, and those reviews which had been published were far from comprehensive or systematic.
In an attempt to fill this knowledge gap, Cheliotis (2008)1 has published what he terms a “systematic review” of this area.
Selecting only evaluations which were carried out to a reasonable standard of methodological rigour, he considered five evaluations of home leave schemes which met the criteria for inclusion in the review, and 12 studies in the area of work release which met the inclusion criteria.
On the basis of the evidence in the home leave evaluations, Cheliotis was able to conclude that such schemes can be effective in decreasing return to custody and post-release arrest rates, but there was insufficient evidence to draw any conclusions with respect to reconviction rates.
The review also analysed the outcome for those prisoners who had been granted work release and evaluated their downstream offending, finding that work release schemes could be effective in decreasing return to custody and post-release arrest rates of ex-offenders. Moreover, this finding also received strong support from a variety of studies which were not formally included in the review because of methodological weaknesses.
1: Cheliotis LK, (2008), Reconsidering The Effectiveness Of Temporary Release: A Systematic Review, Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 13, pp 133-158.
Judith Collins is the new Minister of Corrections.
Prime Minister John Key announced her appointment to the role on 17 November.
Ms Collins is a highly qualified and experienced lawyer. She was a company director prior to being elected to the constituency seat of Clevedon in 2002.
Ms Collins holds a Bachelor of Laws, Master of Laws (with Honours) and Master of Taxation degrees from the University of Auckland.
She has more than 20 years experience as a lawyer and was chair of the Casino Control Authority, President of the Auckland District Law Society, Vice-President of the New Zealand Law Society and a public company director and chairperson before becoming an MP.
Corrections News has pleasure in introducing Ms Collins’ first bi-monthly column.
It is my pleasure to introduce myself to you as the new Minister of Corrections. I am looking forward to working with Corrections staff in the months and years ahead.
During my term as Minister, I’ll be taking every opportunity I can to visit Department of Corrections staff around the country and asking for their thoughts, suggestions and concerns. Feedback from frontline staff is important to me. Theirs is a difficult, but important job. They help make New Zealand a better, safer place to live.
Corrections should not be seen only as imprisonment and punishment, but an opportunity to rehabilitate offenders through programmes that offer an alternative to crime.
Since taking over as Minister, I have been impressed by the dedication, enthusiasm and willingness of the Department to explore new ways to help prisoners improve their lives and integrate back into society.
At Christchurch Women’s Prison, prisoners are learning skills in industries as diverse as catering and horticulture. Offenders serving community work are improving the lives of others by upgrading community gardens in Wellington. The Kia Marama programme continues to sponsor research into sex offending which is incorporated into groundbreaking new programmes for offenders.
They are all fantastic initiatives, and I congratulate everyone involved with them.
At the same time, we should be mindful of what the public expects of us. I believe that prisoners should be treated humanely, but prison facilities should reflect the fact that they are paying a debt to society.
I would like to take the opportunity to tell you a little about myself.
I live in South Auckland with my family. In addition to being Minister of Corrections, I am also Minister of Police and Minister of Veterans’ Affairs. Prior to becoming an MP, I was a lawyer and company director.
Recently I have been described as being tough on crime. It’s a title I wear proudly.
It is not possible to rehabilitate all prisoners, and some won’t want to take the opportunities we give them. For the hardened criminals who clearly present a threat to the community, this government will make it harder for them to be released or get bail.
This won’t make me popular in some quarters. But my first priority is to ensure the safety of the public of New Zealand and the security and wellbeing of all Department of Corrections staff.
We have a lot of work to do. I know I can count on the support and professionalism of Corrections staff. We cannot forget that we are here to serve the public and they expect nothing less.
Hon Judith Collins
Minister of Corrections
Making art happen
Auckland artist Bryan G. Slight served nine-and-a-half years for drug offences. He was released early last year and several months later in August, held his first solo art exhibition at Auckland’s Te Karanga Gallery.
Called Te Hokinga Mai: The Home Coming, the exhibition featured 65 artworks chronicling Bryan’s time in prison. In October the Toi Ora Live Art Trust exhibition at Depot Artspace in Devonport featured a work by Bryan and another was selected for the 2008 Waitakere Trust Art Awards exhibition.
It’s been a long journey of self-improvement that began early in Bryan’s prison term when a friend sent him good quality paints, brushes and paper to use once he achieved minimum security status.
Staff and management supported his request for education and self-development classes which included establishing art classes and working with a librarian to launch a book club.
The book club and weekly art classes steadily grew in popularity and continue to thrive even though most of the original participants have been released.
“I was already motivated to change but the art classes and book club opened up positive opportunities for me,” 52-year-old Bryan says. “I learned that the only way to change a bad habit is to replace it with a good one.
“Now that I’m free, I’ve been putting the skills and self-discipline I picked up as a prisoner to good use.”
Bryan says preparing work for the exhibition was a steep learning curve. He had few resources and very little knowledge about how it’s done so was very grateful for the support of Toi Ora Live Art Trust, its director Erwin Van Asbeck, and staff at Te Karanga Gallery and Depot Artspace.
“I wept the day Erwin and I hung the paintings in the gallery,” Bryan recalls. “I had never seen the works together like that and it was overwhelming – a dream come true.”
As well as painting Bryan works with mosaics, digital art, traditional carving and fabric printing. He’s starting to receive commissions for his work and says he’s so busy he hardly has time to cook dinner.
Bryan is focused and determined to make a living from his art. Through his art he’s developed a strong social conscience and an equally strong desire to pick up the positive threads of his life. That includes being reunited with his three children, who he hasn’t seen for ten years, and his first grandchild.
“I miss them terribly but I’m in close communication with them and send them a lot of my paintings, ” Bryan says.
In the meantime he attends Toi Ora Live Art Trust a couple of times a week, and he’s a volunteer for Psychiatric Survivors and the Framework Trust.