Corrections News Jan-Feb 2010
Chief Executive's comment
Welcome to the New Year and the first issue of Corrections News for 2010.
This year will be a time for completing, and building on, the changes we began in 2009.
The Way Forward performance improvement programme continues apace. The establishment of a new group, Rehabilitation and Reintegration Services, will see us work in a more unified and holistic way, co-ordinating and aligning all of our efforts to rehabilitate prisoners and help them stay crime-free on release.
I extend a warm welcome to Alison Thom, the new General Manger of Rehabilitation and Reintegration Services.
Community Probation Service staff are continuing to improve their compliance levels with procedures. Compliance with procedures for managing parole is at an excellent 94 percent. The wider performance of staff across all of the nine different sentences and orders (including parole) is above 80 percent (84 percent in November 2009).
While we all want to see this figure continue to improve, these results have been achieved in the context of increasing volumes in some of the sentences which makes them even more significant. I am very pleased with this result; it is great to see the hard work and commitment of probation staff paying off.
Given the Employment Court’s decision late last year, work is continuing on the initiative to extend double bunking in our four newest regional prisons so we can manage increasing prisoner numbers. Whilst the Corrections Association has chosen to appeal the decision, we are continuing to discuss the issues with them and hope we can agree a mutually satisfactory conclusion.
Three modified shipping container cells have now arrived at Rimutaka Prison. Work is now proceeding to build the additional infrastructure and recruit the additional staff required to support both double-bunking and the container-based cells.
Looking ahead, other initiatives which will be important in 2010 and beyond include the recent passing of the legislation to allow the private management of prisons, and the development of the whare oranga ake service model which would see the introduction of independent rehabilitation services for Maori prisoners.
I am confidant that the Department is now more able than ever before to face the challenges ahead and I look forward to working with you in what will be a busy and productive year.
New entry and car park at Mt Eden/ACRP
A new single point of entry to both Mt Eden and Auckland Central Remand Prisons (ACRP) has been built to boost safety and security and stop contraband from entering the prison.
The new entry features a metal detector and x-ray machine and will make it easier to search all visitors, staff and their property for contraband.
The new Mt Eden/ACRP car park building has also been finished. Both the new entry and the car park are part of the Mt Eden/ACRP Redevelopment Project.
First excellence award to probation officer
The Minister of Correction’s Excellence Award to recognise staff who have acted with distinction during their training was given in November 2009 for the first time to a probation officer – Shanis Williams from the Panmure Service Centre in Auckland.
Minister of Corrections Hon Judith Collins presented the award to Shanis in recognition of the outstanding achievement she demonstrated during curriculum training and in applying this to the development of sound practice in the role.
New understanding with Police
Corrections and Police have signed an updated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) recognising the close relationship between the two agencies.
The MOU establishes how Corrections and Police work together to achieve common objectives and was signed by Police Commissioner Howard Broad and Corrections Chief Executive Barry Matthews on 14 December 2009 at Police National Headquarters in Wellington.
The MOU was last reviewed in 2005 and has been updated to make provision for intelligence sharing arrangements and to agree segregation standards between the two agencies.
It also provides national guidelines for the provision of safe, secure and humane transportation of prisoners and to identify safe limits of Corrections prisoners to be held at police stations.
Howard Broad acknowledged the need for both organisations to work together hand-in-hand to ensure they continue to meet the challenges in a changing environment which placed significant demands on both Police and Corrections.
Barry recognised the impact both organisations have on each other and the need for a close partnership.
Search leads to visitor’s arrest
Routine searching of cars and their occupants at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility led to Police arresting a man because of items found in his vehicle. Alerting the suspicion of staff was a large amount of cash, including foreign currency, that the man had inside his car. When staff continued searching they also found drugs, primarily packaged as ‘plugs’ – small plastic-wrapped parcels for internal concealment. “The man was at the prison to pick up a form to apply to be an approved visitor for a prisoner. However, anyone arriving on our property can be searched no matter what they’re there for, and because of what we found in this man’s car, it’s unlikely he will be allowed on to the site again for a long, long time,” says Prison Manager Agnes Robertson.
Marmite no challenge
The Hawkes Bay Regional Prison drug dog indicated drugs in a package containing shoes, which, after inspection by staff, were found to contain cannabis concealed within a rubber glove, which was smeared in vegemite or marmite. “Our drug dogs are trained to detect certain odours down to parts per trillion, so it takes a bit more than sandwich spread, however strong-smelling, to fool them,” says Prison Manager George Massingham.
Know something? Dial 0800 JAILSAFE
0800 JAILSAFE (0800 524 572) is a free national phone line for anyone to anonymously phone in information relating to the trafficking of drugs or other crimes in our prisons.
Recruiting the best
As prisoner and community-based offender numbers continue to increase, Corrections has been running a major recruitment campaign to fill a wide range of roles across the organisation.
National Recruitment Manager Warren Young says Corrections has already appointed around 140 custodial officers and 170 probation officers.
“But we still need approximately 100 more custodial officers and 90 more probation officers.
“We’re also looking for nurses, clinical and forensic psychologists, Corrections Inmate Employment instructors – especially those with agricultural/horticultural or engineering experience, and a range of other roles from administrators to managers,” he says.
Warren says most of the recruiting for corrections officers has been as a result of the extra funding we received from the Government to implement extra double-bunking (where two prisoners share a cell).
Staff to prisoner ratios will remain the same in the four prisons where extra double-bunking will take place, so we are especially recruiting for Northland Region Corrections Facility, Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility, Spring Hill Corrections Facility and Otago Region Corrections Facility.
It’s important to have enough experienced staff in these double-bunked prisons, so as well as recruiting new staff, Warren says Corrections has been inviting experienced staff to consider the opportunities of a relocation.
“Working in a different prison, under a different manager, is a challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity for staff who want to develop professionally,” he says.
The Community Probation Service is also continuing to welcome new probation officer recruits.
“There’s been a lot of interest in the probation officer roles and we’ve filled 130 positions with very high quality applicants from many walks of life,” says Warren.
“Quite a few successful applicants have management experience, which they are now translating successfully into the management of sentences.
“Typically these applicants come with some previous experience, working in the health and justice sectors or other government departments such as Child, Youth and Family, as well as ex-police and teachers.”
Find out more about job opportunities with Corrections.
A new approach for rehabilitation and reintegration
In our last issue, we looked at what work is being undertaken as part of The Way Forward performance improvement programme.
This issue, we’re taking a closer look at the changes underway in the provision of rehabilitation and reintegration.
Significant progress has been made on how Corrections is to deliver rehabilitation and reintegration services, since changes to the Department’s structure were announced in September 2009.
As part of the Value for Money Review and consultation process, Chief Executive Barry Matthews announced that Corrections’ rehabilitation and reintegration services would be integrated into a single service delivery arm.
A working group to look at the provision of rehabilitation and reintegration was established in October last year, comprising members from Corrections, Te Puni Kokiri, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Social Development.
The working group completed a series of workshops over October and November, and examined a range of issues including current barriers to the successful application of integrated offender management, and identification of an appropriate offender management model.
The working group developed recommendations regarding the principles and approach to service delivery. These recommendations included suggestions on how to incorporate seamless sentence management and improve effectiveness and services for Maori.
They gave the Corrections Executive Management Team a report which included identification of the work that needs to be done to implement the recommended changes.
Work is now underway on the detailed organisational design work for the Rehabilitation and Reintegration Services team, and with new General Manager Alison Thom on board, it is progressing well.
The functions of this new group include:
- sentence planning and management
- rehabilitation assessment
- development of pre-release sentence plans including reintegration needs
- development, design and delivery of rehabilitative programmes to prisoners and offenders in the community
- provision of psychological services and specialist treatment programmes to prisoners
- delivery of prisoner employment and education activities, including Corrections Inmate Employment.
Welcome - new General Manager Alison Thom
Taking up the challenge of leading the Department’s Rehabilitation and Reintegration team is newly appointed General Manager Alison Thom.
Of Ngapuhi descent, Alison joins the Department from Te Puni Kokiri, where she has been working as the Deputy Secretary, Relationships & Information since 2004.
In this role she was responsible for strategic management and leadership of Te Puni Kokiri’s regional operations, programme funding management, and brokering and managing Crown – Maori relationships.
Alison has previously worked in the area of child welfare with Child, Youth & Family before being appointed Director of SAFE, a community sex offender programme in Auckland.
Alison is an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services in the management of child sex offenders and child protection.
In all of the key roles she has had, from social work through to this new position, Alison has been dedicated to ensuring that Maori interests and needs are understood and integrated in to service delivery.
An interview with Kate Donegan
In 1996, a series of prisoner suicides at HMP Cornton Vale, Scotland’s only women’s prison, led to a highly critical report
into conditions from HM Inspector of Prisons and the resignation of the Governor.
Kate Donegan was brought in as the new Governor and after just one year the prison had received a glowing report from HM Inspector of Prisons.
Corrections News caught up with Kate about the ways she brought about this change in culture when she was in NZ to speak at the Corrective Services Administrators Council’s Women Offenders Conference in Auckland on 2 – 4 December.
Corrections News: What were your first thoughts when you arrived at Cornton Vale back in ‘96?
Kate Donegan: I knew the prison well as I’d been an Assistant Governor there from ’77 – ’84. Also, as Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons, I had been part of the team that had recently produced a highly critical report on the prison and so I was well aware of the prevailing conditions. The infrastructure was poor, staff morale was at very low ebb and there was a pervading fear of another suicide - so staff were spending much of their time on suicide watch.
CN: How did you begin to turn the situation around?
KD: Essentially, we went right back to basics by ensuring that all core custodial tasks were being undertaken to a high standard. It was important too to raise environmental standards and to address the raft of desperate personal and healthcare issues with which the women were struggling. These ranged from addictions, mental and sexual ill health, through to poor nourishment and family breakdown.
Staff had lost their professional self-confidence because of both the suicides and the constant attacks from a hostile media. There was little public or political understanding of the challenges of managing women in prison and my task was therefore to work on changing public attitudes as well as addressing the operational and structural deficits.
For the first six months I worked 18-hour days. It isn’t possible to lead and to govern from an office, so I spent a lot of time out in the prison supporting staff in a very practical way. I provided clear direction, set the standards and shared my vision of a positive and successful future.
I also set out very early on to bring on board a small group of operational managers and specialists who had the experience and capacity to help me to move the prison forward. I had the great good fortune to recruit Dr Kennedy Roberts, a doctor with addictions experience, whose enthusiasm, personality and drive had a hugely positive impact on staff and prisoners alike. His expertise enabled us to develop successful addictions interventions which mitigated the appalling effects of heroin misuse – a significant factor in the suicides.
CN: What were your next steps?
KD: I moved staff around internally to ensure the right blend of experience and knowledge within teams and also to ameliorate the negative impact of those staff who would not, or could not accept the need for change. The ‘boundary patroller’ were replaced with change agents. As you might imagine, there were some pretty blunt discussions with some managers and staff.
I also commissioned research to establish the nature and needs of the prisoners and by doing so, was able quickly to focus resources and interventions very effectively to where they were most needed.
The general presentation and physical condition of the women was very poor, but the results of the research were just shocking. The size and depth of the problems uncovered made the nature of my challenge crystal clear. The data was incredibly useful too in helping to change the perspective of the public, the media and the politicians. The engagement of academics in further research enabled evidence-based practice to be built in at foundation level.
CN: Did you have trouble getting resources?
KD: The suicides had created a political and public outcry so it wasn’t difficult to argue the case for resources to tackle the basics. I don’t know of any Corrections Service where funding is generous and so I had to make a robust and articulate case for the wherewithal to support the prison’s ongoing rehabilitation. Much of the reason for the paucity of investment in the prison up until the suicides raised its profile, was the fact that as there were no pressing operational or security problems, investment tended to be focused on the male estate.
I also presented evidence to Parliament on a couple of occasions as part of my strategy to raise the profile of the prison and help ‘significant others’ to understand and to support the work of the Corrections team at the prison. They needed to appreciate that the prison had become a psychiatric hospital, a residential addictions unit and a refuge all in one – not to mention a mother and baby unit too!
CN: You got a favourable report from HM Inspector of Prisons after a year, but how long did it take before you were really happy with the way things were running at Cornton Vale?
KD: They say it takes at least 15 years to effect real and lasting cultural change. I’d say it took a full three years until I felt that all of the basics were in place and the prison was set fair. Crucially, the rates of self harm plummeted and we had no further suicides for the next three years during which I governed the prison.
CSAC Women's Offenders Conference round-up
Managing women offenders presents a unique challenge to correctional jurisdictions all over the world.
New Zealand is no exception, as many representatives found at the ninth Corrective Services Administrators Women Offenders
Conference in Auckland in early December 2009.
More than 70 people from the Women Offenders Information Network Australia and New Zealand attended the three-day conference that looked at various aspects that women offenders undergo through the criminal justice system, particularly focusing on ‘Custody to Community – a journey planned’.
One of the key highlights was the sharing that took place among various jurisdictions in Australia and New Zealand – particularly the enlightening, entertaining and visual presentation by Jules Dinsdale from the Mannus Correctional Centre where Maori and Pacific Island prisoners are managed in New South Wales, Australia.
Equally interesting was the presentation made by Jean Dally sharing the programmes for young female offenders at the Dillwynia Correctional Centre at New South Wales in Australia.
From further afield, Governor Kate Donegan and Ross Binnie of the Scottish Prison Service shared how their work turned around poorly performing prisons.
Various other speakers from the New Zealand Department of Corrections shared with the Australian and other government departments, various issues covering women’s health, gangs and rehabilitation and the mothers and babies units.
Doctor and author Lauren Roche shared her story of struggle growing up in a dysfunctional family life and how she fought depression, suicide and drugs to turn her life around to become a doctor.
Day three of the conference took a hands-on approach with a tour around the Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility, New Zealand’s largest women’s prison. There was an opportunity to talk with some women prisoners and listen to their experiences, including the passion they exhibited with the mobility dogs programme.
Feedback on the conference came flying in through emails. Words such as ‘a great conference’ and ‘terrific learning’ were used to describe it.
Focus on cultural supervision: Weaving tikanga Maori into daily life
Corrections Rehabilitation Programme Facilitator Rarite Mataki runs therapeutic programmes for offenders, both prison and community-based, in the Manawatu.
The programmes must be effective for Maori offenders, so Rarite, like the almost 100 other programme facilitators across the country, uses tikanga Maori (Maori cultural practices and customs) and Maori models to prompt motivation for change.
These include evaluating lifestyle balance from a cultural perspective. These support western psychological theories such as cognitive behavioural therapy, to help offenders learn the skills to turn their lives around.
To support him, Rarite has fortnightly meetings with a cultural supervisor – an external service provider, contracted to give him guidance to ensure that cultural concepts are effectively weaved into the programmes.
Rarite says his discussions with his cultural supervisor always reflect what’s going on in the group he’s facilitating at the time.
“Last time we met, we discussed a young man in the group who found it very hard to articulate strong emotions – he tended to shut down and withdraw. This was happening in the group, and also at home. When he did communicate he was very emotional and very hard to work with.
“The young man was quite strongly embedded in tikanga Maori, so we helped him link cognitive behavioural concepts of working with feelings, thoughts and behaviours with his world view.
“He was familiar with marae protocol, so I helped him link his feelings with the powhiri process. For example, when visitors come through the gate to the front of the marae they are in an area governed by the Maori deity Tumatauenga who is the god of war, including of battles of wits or minds.
“Then visitors remove their shoes and move to the wharenui, a place of peace, governed by Rongomatane.
“This transition from one domain to another, with the idea of leaving things at the door, gave the young man in the group a way to identify where, when, and how to manage his emotions appropriately.”
“After this, his understanding of himself was so much greater he was able to identify strategies he could use to cope with his emotions. He became much easier to work with, his home life improved, and he completed the programme successfully.”
Another important part of the programme facilitator’s role involves reducing any cultural tensions within a group.
Rarite recalls a pre-group interview he had with a pakeha offender who said he ‘had a problem being around Maori and Asians’.
“Obviously, I’m Maori, and I knew there would be Maori offenders in the group, so we needed to deal with this.
“One way I diffuse cultural tensions is to make the situation more universal. So I asked him what he does in general if he meets people he doesn’t know.
“He said he would spend time talking to them, asking where they were from and so on. Then I was able to bring it back to Maori and Asian people more specifically, and he realised it was something he needed to work on.
“Interestingly, the first friend he made in the group was Maori – so it worked out well.”
Manager of Programme Delivery for the Central Region Peter Arnold says programme facilitators must be culturally competent, but their cultural supervisor is there to support them in what can be a challenging role.
“Ano me he whare pungawerewere,” quotes Peter. “This whakaatauki (proverb) means ‘It is like the web of spider’ and refers to delicate work such as weaving or carving – or delivering a culturally competent rehabilitation programme!”
The main rehabilitation delivered throughout the country is the Medium Intensity Rehabilitation Programme, which is delivered over 134.5 hours (53 sessions) and is aimed at offenders with a ‘medium’ risk of re-offending.
Offenders could have committed any crime from violent crimes, to dishonesty offences, to drug offences.
Positive start for de-escalation
Staff at nine of Corrections’ twenty prisons around the country have begun de-escalation training to enable them to better de-fuse situations involving angry or upset prisoners.
Initial feedback shows that after only two weeks of receiving training, 65 percent of corrections officers have already used the techniques to calm prisoners down.
Unit Manager Rick Dobson from Spring Hill Corrections Facility gives an example of the techniques in action:
“We had an incident where a prisoner was standing in the unit compound challenging the rest of the prisoners to fight him.
“Corrections Officers Joe Lewis and Ronnie Pike approached him and took up the protective position as trained, using calm, non-confrontational body language and staying back a little.
“Officer Lewis asked the prisoner to stop challenging the others, explaining that he didn’t want an incident in the unit where everybody was fighting.
“He gave the prisoner the option of either going quietly back to his cell, or undergoing a general lock-down of the unit, warning that the officers may have to use force if the prisoner wouldn’t comply.
“The prisoner calmed down and Officer Lewis confirmed his instruction to return quietly to his cell.
“On the way back to the cell he took the prisoner to an interview room to find out a little more about why he had been acting this way. He found out the prisoner hadn’t been taking his medication as prescribed.
“This is a great example of the new training helping to avert and discover the cause of what could have become a much higher risk incident,” says Rick.
Spring Hill Corrections Facility Manager Gavin Dalziel says he’s had numerous comments from staff singing the praises of the course as a ‘very relevant and valuable tool’ in their kit.
“The longer-serving staff are saying it puts the approaches they used intuitively into perspective and is giving them a framework to check their strategies against,” says Gavin.
Corrections began rolling out the three-day training programme in tactical communications and de-escalation techniques to all corrections officers (up to 4,500 staff), prison managers and unit managers in September 2009.
What are tactical communications and de-escalation techniques?
These techniques are about assessing a volatile situation and deciding on how best to deal with it. This could mean using verbal and body language to reduce the emotion, disengaging or delaying a response, calling for back-up or escalating the response.
New research provides strong support for reintegrative initiatives
By David Riley, Chief Adviser Psychological Services
An evaluation of an American reintegration programme which helps prisoners to successfully re-enter the community, has been found to reduce re-offending in high risk young men by around 30 percent.
There have been comparatively few evaluations of the effectiveness of reintegration programmes, so this recent article by Braga et al (2009)1 is a welcome contribution.
The authors evaluate the outcome of focusing resources on higher risk young violent male prisoners released from the county jail into the wider Boston area. Programme participants were selected on a number of objective measures of heightened risk, including basic demographic and criminal history, as well as other factors associated with release failure such as substance abuse, antisocial peers, and returning to communities with high rates of violent crime.
Beginning in 2001, the highest-risk inmates from the county jail were assessed to determine their specific treatment and reintegrative needs, and were then assigned to the programme which involved the combined efforts of judicial agencies and non-governmental providers.
Each participant was given an accountability plan outlining a recommended and co-ordinated regime of treatment and supervision, beginning in prison and continuing after release. The services addressed immediate issues such as health insurance, shelter, transportation, clothing and the like, as well as longer-term issues such as substance abuse, mental health treatment, education, career counselling, and permanent accommodation.
In addition to the mix of services provided by governmental and non-governmental agencies, faith-based organisations provided mentors to participants, both in prison and post-release. Notably, their salaries were funded by the programme, and on average mentors stayed involved with the participants for 12-18 months.
The comparison group used in the evaluation was made up of similar high risk young males who were released into the community from the same jail in the year before the programme’s implementation.
Both the programme participants and the control group were followed up for three years, and overall, although recidivism rates remained high, those who took part in the programme reoffended approximately 30 percent less than their peers in the comparison group.
This was particularly pleasing as not only were they less likely to offend generally, they were also less likely to offend violently. The programme participants also took longer, on average, to reoffend than the control group.
This evaluation was well conducted, used appropriate statistical analyses, and attempted to control for the impact of extraneous variables, and consequently a high level of confidence can be placed in these results.
Overall, this study reinforces the notion that those at highest risk of violent recidivism are appropriate candidates for treatment, and that an intensive approach to managing release and reintegration, incorporating both governmental and non-governmental agencies has the potential to achieve significant and lasting reductions in general and violent reoffending.
1 Braga A., Piehl A., and Hureau D. (2009), Controlling Violent Offenders Released to the Community: An Evaluation of the Boston Re-entry Initiative, Journal of Research & Crime in Delinquency, 46, pp 411-436.
Late last year the Government passed a new law that would allow contract management of prisons to operate within the corrections system in New Zealand.
Many of you will recall that Auckland Central Remand Prison was managed by a private contractor between 2000 and 2005, and achieved many successes. Some of the good ideas that the company brought to ACRP were adopted by the Department and are still being used today.
This exposure to new ideas is one of the main reasons the Government is keen to have a small number of prisons under private management again.
The people of New Zealand rely on us to provide the best Corrections service that we possibly can, and that means always looking at ways things can be done better.
In May last year, I travelled to Victoria and Queensland in Australia to see contract managed prisons for myself. I saw prisons which were operating well, which had enthusiastic and committed staff, and which were trialling new rehabilitation programmes which hadn’t been trialled in the state-managed prisoners.
I talked to the heads of corrections in both states who confirmed to me that having a few prisons under contract management had a positive impact across the entire corrections system.
I also visited ACRP when it was privately managed. I was impressed then by the professionalism of the staff I met and the quality of the programmes that were run within the prison. I was particularly impressed by the relationships the prison had developed with Maori.
With change often comes uncertainty. During what has been a lively debate around contract management several concerns were raised.
There has been concern that the Government will be selling off as many as six prisons. In fact, we are only looking at introducing contract managers at two prisons.
Competitive tendering for the contract management of prisons will be on a case-by-case basis. The two preferred sites for contract management are the newly redeveloped Mt Eden/ACRP and a potential new prison in Wiri, South Auckland.
With the prison population projected to continue to grow, there will always be a high demand for experienced, well-performing and professional corrections officers in both public and contract managed prisons.
We will not be washing our hands of the responsibility of managing prisoners safely, securely and humanely – the Chief Executive of Corrections will ultimately be responsible for the performance of each prison, be the prison publicly or contract managed.
Contract prisons operate in many countries around the world. On the whole, they perform well, with staff enjoying their roles and learning new skills, prisoners are held safely and securely and are provided with good rehabilitation programmes, and strong relationships have been forged with the local communities those prisons are in.
Finally, I would like to thank you all for your hard work during 2009. I believe the Department made great progress in many areas during the year.
I look forward to meeting many of you as I visit prisons around the country in 2010.
Hon Judith Collins
Minister of Corrections
Prison opens doors to students
Almost 150 local high-school and university students have had a taste of prison life during tours of Christchurch Men’s Prison over the last 12 months.
“They’re mostly legal studies classes and law students,” says Annie Nelsen from the Visits Approval Team at Christchurch Men’s Prison.
The tours give students an understanding of how a corrections facility operates on a day-to-day basis, and include a demonstration of the effectiveness of drug dogs.
Ollie, the resident drug dog, and Handler Barry Nelsen have been very popular with the tour groups and helped them learn about the problems associated with drugs in prisons.
“All the groups that toured responded very positively and asked if they could come again next year,” says Annie.
Acting Regional Manager Jane von Dadelszen congratulated Annie and the team at the prison on their relationship-building initiatives.
“They really make a difference to the Department’s relationship with our community and to public views of the Department generally. It’s great that they have shown our strengths so well,“ she says.
Community spirit flourishes in Owhiro gardens
People in Wellington’s Owhiro Bay, including families in emergency housing, are now growing their own potatoes, carrots and sweetcorn in a flourishing community garden, thanks to a collaboration between Mokai Kainga Maori Trust, Wellington City Council, Corrections and many other community members and groups including Friends of Owhiro Stream and the ‘Dirt Doctor’.
As well as vegetables, the gardens boast a wetland conservation area which doubles as an irrigation system and a small olive and fruit orchard.
In July 2009, the now verdant garden – dubbed ‘The Garden of Eden’ by offenders – was one-and-a-half acres of waste ground, covered in gorse, blackberry brambles and weeds.
But Mokai Kainga’s CEO Robert Te Whare, as part of his overall vision to provide social services and education, saw the area could become a garden providing fresh vegetables to nearby homes, including the Trust’s three emergency houses for families in need.
He called on Corrections who brought in offenders serving community work sentences to clear the land and prepare it for gardens.
Robert says the garden already helps to feed 13 local families, but now that so many members of the local community have come on board, their vision for the garden’s evolution doesn’t end there.
“We also plan to put in 500 native plants to be donated by the Council to provide rongoa (traditional Maori medicines).
Owhiro School will have an area for a seedhouse and we have plans to build a workshop too,” he says.
Community Work Supervisor Tupu says the project is a special one for Corrections because it has expanded so far beyond the original brief of ‘slash and burn’ to be truly embraced by the local community.
“This project has so much to offer. It isn’t just about offenders giving something back to the community; they also gain valuable skills from working here, not least because we treat this place as a marae where we teach and educate. Robert and his fellow Trust members, and I teach Maori cultural concepts as we go about our work,” he says.
Matthew Dadley, the ‘Dirt Doctor’, who has given his time to advise about composting and soil care in the gardens, says it’s been a rewarding experience to watch the transformation of the waste ground.
“I have on every occasion felt welcomed by the men working on the project and have enjoyed the mix of Pakeha and Maori perspectives on how to create the garden. I cannot help but think that a gardening project of this nature, where ownership is present, could be a model for the rehabilitation of men under Correction’s supervision,” he says.
The Owhiro Community Garden acknowledges the generous support of Friends of Owhiro Stream, wetland advocate George, horticulturalist Allan Brown, ‘Dirt Doctor’ Matthew Dadley, the Wellington City Council and all the other members of the community who have donated their time, expertise and resources to make the project possible.