With the commemorative plaque (L-R): Prison Director Jo Harrex, Kaumatua Henare Edwards, National Commissioner Rachel Leota, Senior Psychologist and Matapuna’s first Manager Psychological Services Lindon Pullan, Manager Psychological Services Sarah Head, and Operations Director Southern Chris O’Brien-Smith. Ara Poutama Aotearoa staff, programme participants and community partners came together on 4 December to mark the 10th anniversary of Christchurch Men’s Prison’s Matapuna Special Treatment Unit.

Matapuna is a 60 bed therapeutic community based around a programme specifically aimed at men with a history of serious violent or sexual offending and identified as having a high risk of re-offending. With an average of 10 men commencing each programme, just over 500 men have started the Matapuna programme over the decade.

The milestone was commemorated with the unveiling of a plaque by National Commissioner Rachel Leota and the planting of a commemorative tree by Matapuna’s longest serving staff member, Programme Facilitator Alana Bray.

“This is a significant milestone for Matapuna therapeutic community,” says Acting Manager Psychological Services Sarah Head. “At the core of Matapuna is the concept of a ‘community of change’ where custodial and therapy staff work in partnership with tāne to support change in the programme.”

“Over their time in Matapuna, usually around 12 months, tāne are supported by the Unit team and their peers to develop a deeper understanding of the thoughts, attitudes, behaviour and situations that lead them to violent behaviour; the impact of their behaviour on others; and to develop some personal management and effective self-regulation strategies to maintain a violence free lifestyle. These skills will help these men break the cycle of violence and re-offending and to become better fathers, partners, employees, and members of the community with the skills to manage challenges in their lives in a non-violent way. Learning about what drives their behaviour is key to the participants setting goals beyond prison and having the skills to move forward.”

Sarah Head and Programme Facilitator Tony Bird lead a therapy group at Matapuna. And Corrections’ own research has also shown the approach works, with the Matapuna programme reducing re-offending by 25 percent for released prisoners given reintegration support on parole.

Built on an existing violence prevention programme in the prison, Matapuna was the last of Corrections’ four prison-based Special Treatment Units for serious violent or sexual offending. The programme is delivered by a team of psychologists and programme facilitators, supported by a reintegration coordinator and custodial staff.

“I suspect that what Sir Pita Sharples saw even then was what we see now,” says Deputy Regional Commissioner Justin Rowlands. “This more humanising and healing environment supports our men to develop and sustain a better self. If he were here now, I hope he would also commend our desire to see things through a Te Ao Māori lens and compliment the Matapuna community on the work they do with those in our care. Over the past 10 years, the Matapuna community has built a foundation for participation and partnership, which is a key element in the success of this flagship and globally renowned programme at Ara Poutama Aotearoa.”

“Those outcomes are made possible through the integrated and collaborative activities of our clinicians, our custodial officers, our educators and all of our support people who work to help keep tāne stay safe and learn skills to leave prison committed to a pro-social, less violent future. The people who do this mahi don’t see their role as a job, they see their role as a vocation - fundamental to participants’ successful entry back into society. The proof is in the reduction in re-offending rates for the men who have graduated this programme and the low occurrence of aggression or incidents in this place.”

Aptly, the name Matapuna means a spring or source of a river. Traditionally Māori immersed people in springs for healing, so the Matapuna Special Treatment Unit means a place of healing and balance, and of getting back to basics.

One News story

One News attended the 10 year anniversary - See their story.