A review of the Saili Matagi Programme for male Pacifica prisoners

Lucy King
Principal Adviser, Service Development, Department of Corrections

Sosefo Bourke
Regional Adviser Pacific, Department of Corrections

Author biographies

Lucy has worked with the Department of Corrections since the late 1990s. She has been registered as a clinical psychologist since 1998 and holds a Masters Degree and Post Graduate Diploma in Clinical Psychology. She has been a principal adviser since 2007, initially for Psychological Services and then for the Programmes and Interventions Team at National Office. Lucy has experience as a group therapist and has designed and developed a number of departmental group treatment programmes for high and moderate risk male and female offenders.

Sosefo has worked in Corrections for 32 years. He started his career as a corrections officer, and moved into leadership and management roles within Prison Services. Since 2006, he’s been the Regional Advisor Pacific for Central Region. Sosefo has worked with others to design and deliver training for staff in the Corrections Services Pacific Engagement Model, Fauina O Le Fale; Responsiveness to Pacific People, including the Pacifica Identity programme delivered to men and women in prison.


Saili Matagi is a medium intensity rehabilitative programme offered by the New Zealand Department of Corrections to Pacifica prisoners who are serving a sentence for a serious or violent offence. Pacifica offenders make up 12% of the incarcerated population (Department of Corrections, 2015), but only seven per cent of the total population of New Zealand (Statistics New Zealand, 2013a). This disproportionate representation illustrates the importance of a programme that meets the specific needs of Pacifica offenders (Shepherd & Ilalio, 2016).

The Saili Matagi Programme was originally developed in 2003 within the Department of Corrections by a psychologist of Pacifica descent, specifically Tongan, with the support of the wider Pacifica community through a cultural advisory group. The programme was piloted in the 2003-2004 year at Auckland Prison. An evaluation in 2004 recommended that the programme required a suitable Pacific environment for its sustainability. With the opening of the Vaka Fa’aola Pacific unit, it was recommended that the programme be delivered in this environment. The Saili Matagi Programme was reviewed for a second time in 2008, because the programme needed considerable preparation for this new environment. The Saili Matagi Programme was last reviewed in mid 2012.

Treatment outcomes within the department are measured by the Rehabilitation Quotient (RQ), which compares the rates of reconviction and re-imprisonment for offenders who completed a rehabilitative intervention with the rates for a matched group who did not complete that intervention.

The 2016 RQ for Saili Matagi was based on 11 years of releases for 96 prisoners. The calculated RQs were -3.4% for 12 month reconviction, and -1.5% for 12 month re-imprisonment. For the former this translates to a 3.4% reduction for a 12 month reconviction period and a 1.5% reduction for 12 months re-imprisonment. While the effect sizes were small, the RQ data indicate some success in reducing reconviction and re-imprisonment rates over a 12 month period. These results need to be treated with caution as the sample size over the 11 year period was small.

Over time, opportunities for improving programmes have been identified as practice has strengthened and supporting literature has developed. In order for programmes to be responsive to the needs and abilities of offenders, and remain effective in reducing re-offending, they must be reviewed against the latest best practice in offender rehabilitation every two years or so. Therefore, it was timely to review and update the Saili Matagi Programme.

This paper provides an overview of the review of the Saili Matagi Programme. The method of evaluation and preliminary results will be presented. The paper will conclude with recommendations and next steps for the programme.

Saili Matagi

The Saili Matagi offence-focused programme is delivered by departmental programme facilitators at the Fale of the Pacific Focus Unit, Vaka Fa'aola (Spring Hill Corrections Facility). The unit offers a therapeutic environment that aims to motivate Pacifica prisoners to address their offending behaviour, provides a venue for rehabilitation programmes and an environment where pro-social behaviours are aligned with Pacifica values and beliefs.

The Saili Matagi therapeutic approach was developed through the use of Pacific nations’ cultural principles and is delivered through a “proverbial language” approach. Cultural principles and sacred knowledge systems are used as a “therapeutic approach” in themselves. The approach incorporates Pacifica Matua (elders) within the delivery of group work sessions to transfer cultural values, beliefs and concepts that are familiar and relevant to men of Pacifica cultures. The Saili Matagi has four underpinning core principles within the cultural context of FaaSamoa (Samoan way of life/living/being): Feagaiga (sacred covenant relationship between brother and sister); Va Fealoai (how one relates to another); Va Tapuia (the sacred space between which one should never cross); and Faaleleiga (the spirit of the programmes intent).

The current version of the programme consists of five core components which are conceptualised as Saili Matagi “encounters”.

Longolongo Folau (The Call to Sail). This is the preparation, engagement and motivation component and includes individual and group sessions.

Takanga enau Fohe (Unity within Diversity). This component aims to build a therapeutic group environment that is conducive to change. It assists participants to engage in the group process, develop their motivation, and engage in talanoa (discussions).

Faaleleiga (Restorative Healing). During this phase of the programme the participants examine their offending and the consequences of their offending on victims, family, community, and village. Here the participants also learn about the consequences of offending on themselves, and about shame, guilt and condemnation. In the final phase of this component, participants consider the spiritual aspects of repentance, forgiveness and acceptance as keys to working through a malanga (journey) towards an offence and violence free lifestyle.

Lafo le taula I fanua (Preparing for Landing). During this component participants develop a “new” script. This includes identifying high risk situations, developing strategies for managing these and developing a relapse prevention plan.

Toe afua le Taeao (New Beginnings). In the final component of the programme, participants are acknowledged for having landed at their destination. They are “handed over” to their identified support people. Participants complete with a graduation.

The five Saili Matagi “encounters” are separately considered as foe/fohe (oars/paddles) which symbolise cultural principles or tools. Foe/fohe reflect the Western psychological principles and interventions that are known to be effective in the rehabilitation of violent offenders.

Saili Matagi is underpinned by the Risk, Need, Responsivity (RNR) principles (Bonta & Andrews, 2017). The RNR model is considered to be the best model for guiding offender assessment and treatment. The key factors targeted for change by the programme are: violence propensity, anti-social attitudes, offence related/problem thinking and feelings, criminal associates and poor self-control.

Aims of the programme review

There were four main aims:

  1. to analyse the volumes of offenders who are attending the programme and the volumes that could be eligible to attend
  2. to undertake quality monitoring to determine whether the programme was being delivered as intended in its design. The information obtained would feed into the review and re-design of the programme
  3. to evaluate the programme within the wider context of its relationship with the Vaka Fa'aola unit, offender pathways following completion of the programme, and the interface between case management and probation when people are released
  4. to determine whether the programme can be delivered outside of the Fale (within the wider
    prison and in the community).


A well-structured integrity monitoring process for programme delivery has been in place since 2008. This was reviewed and updated for the Saili Matagi Programme in 2016, in consultation with the project focus group.1

A multi-disciplinary assessment team of six was assembled to undertake the review. The team included a regional adviser Pacific, and representatives from probation, prisons, and the Rehabilitation Programmes and Interventions Team. The team received training on the method of assessment.

In November 2016, the team visited the Pacific Focus Unit, Vaka Fa'aola, to observe delivery and conduct structured interviews with key personnel. Team members interviewed unit staff, case managers, reception/induction staff and the prison chaplain. Saili Matagi group participants, graduates of the programme, their families, other unit prisoners and eligible non-unit prisoners were also interviewed. In the community, Northern and Central Region probation officers, and managers interventions programmes and employment were interviewed.

Teams of two worked in parallel, with one team focusing on programme delivery and the assessment of balancing Pacifica principles with psychotherapeutic elements, while the other pair undertook wider reviews with key personnel and families.

Preliminary results

Volumes of participants attending Saili Matagi

Table 1 provides an outline of the volumes of offenders attending and completing the programme, and those who were exited between 2012 and 2017 (March 2017). As can be seen in the table, in total, seven programmes were delivered over that period. Seventy participants began and 66 completed the programme. The average completion rate was 92 percent which is considered a very high completion rate (target completion rate for prison-based rehabilitation programmes is 85%).

Table 1: Volumes of offenders attending the programme


No. of programmes

No. of participants start

No. of participants complete

No. of participants exit

Completion rate





































Eligibility criteria

The review uncovered a large difference between the numbers of offenders eligible to attend the programme between 2012 and 2016 (n=633) and the number that attended and completed a programme (n=66; =10.4 % of all eligible offenders).

Some reasons for this difference were identified. The Vaka Fa’aola unit at Spring Hill Corrections Facility is the only one of its kind in New Zealand, limiting numbers of attendance. Given the intensity and length of the Saili Matagi Programme (at 72 sessions) at most only two programmes can be delivered annually. The department’s Pacifica programme facilitator resource is small. When there has been no facilitator resource, the programme has paused. Operational challenges continue to stretch the delivery of the programme.

A quality monitoring process was undertaken for the programme that was delivered between August and November 2016. Overall, the programme was set up and maintained in accordance with the indicators of successful programming (Bonta & Andrews, 2017). There was evidence of clear Pacifica processes from the outset of the visit to the Vaka Fa’aola Pacific Focus Unit.

On the basis that the Saili Matagi programme is more intensive than other medium intensity suite programmes, it was condensed to 56 sessions (from 72 sessions) by the facilitators for the programme that was quality monitored. This was done with approval from management and supervisors. The revised sessions adhered to session objectives, theoretical principles, and therapeutic process (use of dynamic delivery and group process skills).

The programme within the wider context of the Vaka Fa'aola unit and interface with other internal services

The assessment team surveyed prison and probation staff, and the prison chaplain. This involved asking semi-structured questions around a wide scope of factors relating to effective outcomes for the Saili Matagi Programme.

Feedback on good practice

Feedback was obtained around perceptions of good practice. Results indicated that good practice involved respectful communication with prisoners, working collaboratively with prisoners, families, facilitators and programme providers. Another important factor was open and regular communication between case managers, prison staff, probation staff and programme facilitators about participants’ progress.

Feedback was also sought on factors that would positively impact on programme outcomes. Important factors identified were: the provision of greater support following the completion of the programme, identifying changes in prisoners’ behaviour, and inviting families more frequently to attend meetings and discuss participant progress.

Aiga/whānau/family-centric practice refers to the overarching involvement of the family in the treatment of participants. Staff identified that this practice is a fundamental factor in helping to achieve positive outcomes for participants. There is a meeting day called aiga fono (family meeting).

Currently, aiga fono occurs on one occasion but prison staff noted that it would be beneficial for the meeting to occur on more than one occasion during the Saili Matagi Programme. This would encourage re-engagement with families and prepare families and participants for areas that need to be monitored following release from prison.

The respondents were asked how they demonstrate commitment to succeeding with Pacific programme participants and their families. Respondents stated it is important for staff to have detailed information about the men they are working with and support participants to attend their programmes. The staff working at the unit must be “the right staff” who are culturally responsive and committed to working within a therapeutic context. Others suggested that the staff at the unit should work there on a permanent basis as this would encourage commitment to the unit.

Prisoner pathways

The respondents were asked to describe how the Saili Matagi Programme is integrated into the overall prison pathway for the participants. Overall, the responses indicated that there was insufficient information about Saili Matagi across all prisons and Community Corrections sites. It was noted that it would be important for this information to be made available at the early stages of prisoner sentences via case managers.

More recently (August 2017), Corrections has made a new programmes catalogue available to all prisons and Community Corrections sites (including programme delivery staff), which can be used to highlight the programmes available.

Leadership and support from the regions for achieving the goals of the department

The respondents were asked to provide examples of strong leadership in the Central Region that promote the aims of the department. Overall, the respondents said that the Pacific advisers and principal case managers provided pivotal leadership roles in promoting departmental goals for Pacific offenders. Responses highlighted the need for greater links with the Pacifica community. Examples include ongoing links with Pacifica Matua, Pacifica community leaders and organisations.


Overall, common responses indicated that communication between different departmental teams would benefit from improvement. This would ensure that there is more effective sharing of information between services, all with the goal of developing a comprehensive pathway for Pacifica prisoners from the beginning of their sentence through to reintegration and post-release.

Preliminary recommendations

The following recommendations were made based on the review of the Saili Matagi Programme:

  • Undertake a redesign review of the Saili Matagi Programme. This review would include reviewing current research on the Pacifica principles and concepts that underpin the programme, and reviewing current research on best practice in offender rehabilitation (including programme intensity)
  • Revise and update the Saili Matagi training for programme facilitators, supervisors and other relevant staff involved in programme delivery
  • Strengthen the interface between prison staff, case management, probation and the regions so that regular communication is occurring across services
  • Facilitate more links with the Pacifica community
  • Consider whether culturally responsive staff can remain in the Fale on a longer term basis, and continue to provide training on responsiveness to Pacifica people and the Saili Matagi Programme
  • Consider whether the Saili Matagi Programme could be delivered outside of the Fale, aligning with the rules and resourcing of our other medium-intensity programmes. This would mean that the programme would be made available more widely to Pacifica participants.

Achievements so far

A number of the recommendations have been implemented. Subject matter experts from Massey University School of Psychology were contracted to work with the department to review and re-design the Saili Matagi Programme and update the training resources.

Facilitators and relevant staff have completed the Saili Matagi training. The new version of the programme is now being delivered and has been well received by the programme facilitators, custody staff and all 10 participants on the programme.

A working draft of the Saili Matagi Programme resources will be finalised in December 2017.

Next steps

Strengthen the interface between prison staff, case management, probation and the regions so that regular communication is occurring across services. This could be achieved through regular communication and meetings between the services. Wherever possible, case officers, case managers, and probation officers should attend the Saili Matagi pre-programme fono, opening of the programme, fono aiga and graduation. All staff would benefit from training on responsiveness to Pacific people and the Saili Matagi programme.

Regional Pacific advisers, the programme facilitators and staff at the Vaka Fa’aola have developed links with the wider Pacifica community. Our partners at Massey University also have links. The next steps are to strengthen these links through regular communication and ongoing meetings with the Pacifica community and related organisations.

A meeting with prison services is planned to discuss whether it is viable for culturally responsive staff to remain in the Fale Vaka Fa’aola on a longer term basis. This meeting will also examine whether the programme could be run at a second prison site to make it more widely available for Pacifica offenders.


Bonta, J., & Andrews, D.A. (2017). The psychology of criminal conduct (6th Ed). London New York. Routledge

Department of Corrections. (2015). Topic series: Pacific offenders. Retrieved from 

Statistics New Zealand. (2013a). Major ethnic groups in New Zealand. Retrieved from http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/profile-and-summary-reports/infographic-culture-identity.aspx

Shepherd, S. M., & Ilalio, T. (2016). Māori and Pacific Island over-representation in the Australian criminal justice system – what are the determinants? Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 55(2), 113-128. doi: 10.1080/10509674.2015.1124959

1 The focus group was composed of internal and external Pacifica and Pakeha experts that could provide subject matter expertise on Pacifica concepts, values and models, and best practice in offender rehabilitation. The feedback they provided informed the revision and re-design of the integrity monitoring templates for Saili Matagi.