Correction’s prison literacy programmes are now being delivered to people on remand at Christchurch Men’s Prison.

People on remand have either been denied bail by the courts and are awaiting their court hearing or sentencing. Currently this group makes up around 30% of the prison population.

“Delivering programmes to remand prisoners has traditionally been considered too difficult because of the unknown length of time these people are in prison,” explains Michele Wisternoff, Principal Adviser Rehabilitation and Learning for Christchurch Men’s Prison.

“Remand prisoners may be held in custody for anywhere from a few weeks, to a few months or even longer,” says Michele. “It can be a busy time, with court appearances, lawyers visits, meetings with health and other prison services to identify any urgent needs. This has, in the past, made it difficult to plan any scheduled programmes the remand area..

“We needed to think differently about this group, in order to help them to make the most of their time in prison however short. We wanted to set them up for a future of learning – either outside the prison if they are released from court or, get them underway for further learning within the prison.”

In the first two weeks of arriving in prison, a remand prison will meet with an Education Assessment Tutor to determine their literacy and numeracy. New prisoners with a 1 or 2 score on numeracy and/or literacy need to complete an intensive literacy programme to give them the skills necessary to engage in other opportunities

It is this low scoring group that is being specifically targeted with the remand literacy programme.

Bill* is in his fifties. He left school at 15 when his family moved to Australia, so he missed out on a lot of learning, and can’t remember much of it.

“I left school and didn’t return,” he says. “I started shearing sheep and continued to have a variety of low paid jobs.”

Bill had been interested in improving his literacy, and is very happy that the education programme is now available for remand prisoners.

Bill has been taking part in the class for only five weeks. His literacy tutor says he is an excellent student and is very focused on his work.

Bill says that he finds learning interesting. He enjoys reading, mainly non-fiction, and also likes Stephen King and Stieg Larsson. He visits to the prison library as often as he can.

Bill says he wasn’t able to study ‘on the outside’.

”There were too many distractions, especially drinking and drugs.” Now he has a clear head and is keen to do as much as possible. Bill would like to complete NCEA level 1, 2 & 3 and eventually would like to study at university.

He is one of 35 prisoners who have completed the programme since it began. A further 20 prisoners involved in the programme were released or moved from remand to residential units before completion. Those moved to other units will have their education needs picked up within the prison literacy programmes.

“While offenders are in our custody we have an opportunity to support them to lift their skill levels and improve their chances of gaining employment on release,” says Michele.

“We keep the classes small, to a maximum of six learners at a time, to enable prisoners to have the intensive support they require.”

Not having literacy skills impacts all aspects of a person’s life, making it more difficult to take part in many activities and limits a person’s opportunities to gain employment.

“It makes sense to do what we can to rehabilitate and educate these men for a life beyond prison, to help them learn the skills they can take home to their families. Research shows strong links between education and employment, and employment and reduced offending. Reduced offending means safer communities,” says Michele.

“The students are obviously keen to learn,” she says. “Attendance has been excellent and custody staff have reported an enthusiasm from the men involved toward both their classroom learning and homework.”

“Education changes lives,” says Michele. “These men are discovering a whole world of opportunity previously unavailable to them. Literacy is a gift that keeps giving, often for generations.”