Age no barrier to learning

Hon David Parker presented certificates to prisoners at the Howard League graduation at Mt Eden Corrections Facility.A prisoner at Mt Eden Corrections Facility who learned to read fluently for the first time at 64 years of age has achieved 100% in the learner driver’s theory test, along with six others.

The men graduated from their respective Howard League literacy and driver’s licence courses just before Christmas.

Hon David Parker, Minister for Economic Development, Environment, and Trade and Export Growth, presented the certificates, and celebrated the achievements not only of the prisoners, but also of the New Zealand Howard League’s 90 years plus of supporting offender education and rehabilitation.

Minister Parker emphasised the importance of prisoners taking advantage of the educational opportunities made available to them.

“There are too many people in prison and too many people coming back to prison,” said Minister Parker.

“However, all of us in this room today want to help you succeed in life, lead non-violent lives and get good jobs, so you can be proud of yourselves and your families can be proud of you as partners, fathers, brothers and friends.”

About 71% of prisoners lack basic literacy skills and the majority start a prison career with a driving offence. New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform Chief Executive Mike Williams emphasised the importance of literacy and driver’s licence training.

“To get a job, one needs to be able to read and write. If you can’t read the Road Code you can’t get a driver’s licence. The two go hand in hand and are vital to keep people out of prison.”

Prisoner *John can now achieve his goal of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to his grand-daughter on his release.For prisoner John*, his inability to read and write properly caused him years of shame, guilt and fear. But that all changed after Howard League volunteer and retired school principal Janice Anderson became his "lifeline".

It was noticed John was unable to read or write when he asked for help filling out a form.

"I had to get that form filled out because I wanted visitors.  It was a big embarrassment,” says John.

John began attending weekly sessions with Janice and had two goals; first, to read the much-loved children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar to his four-year-old granddaughter on his release, and second, to write his autobiography.

After about six months John achieved his goals and more.

“John now reads fluently,” says Janice.  “He has completed volume one of his autobiography and is about to start on volume two.  What a fantastic milestone, thanks to John’s brave decision.”

*Not his real name.