Extending the reach of the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, Aotearoa New Zealand Hillary Award for youth in Corrections

Dr Ashley Shearar, Principal Adviser – Youth Strategy, Department of Corrections

Author biography:

Ashley Shearar returned to the Department of Corrections in 2016 after managing the Youth Policy team at the Ministry of Social Development. She previously held a variety of roles with Corrections, from working as a probation officer to leading the High Risk Response Team. Ashley completed her PhD at Victoria University comparing youth justice transformation between New Zealand and South Africa. She is passionate about improving outcomes for young people in the justice system.

“It’s made me stronger both physically and mentally and it’s made me appreciate the small things a lot more.”
A young man from a Corrections Youth Unit reflecting on his experience of the Award


The Department of Corrections recognises that to achieve a significant reduction in re-offending overall, it must improve outcomes for youth. The implementation of the Youth Strategy in 2013 marked Corrections’ commitment to improving services and supports to reduce youth re-offending rates. Since then, a number of initiatives have been developed and implemented for youth in Corrections.

In addition to the services provided by Corrections, partnerships with external organisations play a significant role in the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of youth. Corrections’ partnership with the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, Aotearoa New Zealand Hillary Award (the Award) has continued to make a difference for a number of youth in Corrections and helped to increase engagement with the community.

About the Award

According to their Mission statement “the mission of the Award programme in New Zealand is to have young people, regardless of cultural, ethnic and socio-economic background, participating in an exciting, flexible and individually-tailored programme, to build skills, identity and self-esteem”.

Young people across New Zealand from the ages of 14 – 25 participate in the Award programme. The programme offers three levels of achievement: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Each of the levels is made up of four key competencies which the young people need to complete, with each level becoming increasingly challenging. These competencies include skills development, community service, physical recreation and an “Adventurous Journey”.

Youth working towards a Gold Award are also required to complete a fifth component, which is a residential project. This is described by the Award as “…undertaking a shared activity or specific course with people you don't know, where you will either: build on a talent you've developed in another section; learn something completely new on an intensive course; or do something to help others.”

The Award is designed to offer young people a range of personal benefits such as enhanced self-esteem and a sense of achievement. It also provides people with many of the skills employers value, including; communication, reliability, decision-making, confidence, team work and leadership.

Delivering the Award in Corrections

The Award was piloted in 2016 in Corrections’ two youth units located at Hawkes Bay Regional Prison and Christchurch Men’s Prison. This pilot was made possible with the generous funding from a philanthropic sponsor. The initial focus was supporting the first two cohorts of young men to achieve their Bronze Awards. Since then, ongoing funding has enabled more young men in the youth units to achieve their Bronze Awards, as well as previous Bronze Award recipients to progress to their Silver and even Gold Awards – a significant achievement for youth in Corrections.

In 2017, the Award was extended to include the Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility (ARWCF), with the first cohort of young women under the age of 25 successfully completing their Bronze Award in December that year.

Identifying eligible youth in Corrections

Sentenced youth up to the age of 25 years who spend at least six months in custody are initially identified as eligible candidates to complete all the components for a Bronze Award. Duke of Edinburgh Award staff meet with the young people to explain what the Award is about, the expectations from the participants and how they will be supported to achieve their competencies. Interested youth put themselves forward to become participants.

Each participant is provided with a book to record their activities against the sections. Corrections staff monitor the record book to confirm when individuals have met the requirements of each component to achieve the relevant Award.

Meeting the requirements in Corrections’ custody

The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme is committed to ensuring that all their programmes are delivered to a high standard internationally. Their staff have worked with Corrections to ensure that each site has been able to support youth to achieve the Award with integrity, despite the constraints of the prison environment.

Examples of skills development have included creative writing and developing tikanga skills such as kapa haka. A range of community service options have been achieved as well, including paintings for children in hospital; fixing pre-loved bicycles to provide a transport option for people released from prison; planting vegetables to supply to Women’s Refuge; and serving as tuakana-teina[1], including teaching tikanga to peers.

Long distance running has helped many youth successfully meet their physical skills component, with regular morning runs recently culminating in a marathon being organised for young men at the Christchurch Youth Unit. In January 2018, a number of young men recently pushed their boundaries to complete the full 42 kilometre course within the prison perimeter, with others successfully completing half-marathons and 10km runs.

The Adventurous Journey has arguably been the more challenging component to deliver to youth in custody who are unable to go outside of prison. Creative solutions have been worked through at all three sites to date, including tramping with packs inside the prison perimeter, and identifying a location within the prison where the youth can undertake some further physical challenges as well as camp overnight. The youth have been electronically monitored during the Adventurous Journey to provide additional assurance around risk of absconding when outside of their usual units. Participants, Corrections staff and Award providers describe how this experience serves as a good opportunity for youth to open up about themselves, including their hopes and aspirations for their futures.

Support from experienced Award providers

To date, the Award has been implemented in collaboration with experienced providers: Joshua Foundation in Christchurch and Poniki Adventures in Hawke’s Bay and Auckland. This has enabled us to deliver a quality programme, and for Corrections staff to get insight into what is expected for youth to achieve their competencies. The providers have worked alongside Corrections staff to support our participants through the programme. They have also worked more intensively with the youth during the Adventurous Journey component.

The involvement of the external providers has added value to the experience, which for the participants has included their appreciation for people coming from outside of Corrections to give their time and experience to support them. This was captured in letters written from the young men to one of the providers, with one of the young men writing:

I would like to thank you for the level of commitment you brought with you into prison. I really like how you treated us all the same as you would with people out in the community.

Delivering the Award in a women’s prison

Running the Award at ARWCF where there is no dedicated youth unit presented a new challenge for Corrections. A key difference was that the eligible young women could be identified from a number of units across the prison site, making it more difficult to ensure that staff across the site were aware of which young women were participating, that they understood the expectations and were able to support the young women through their competencies. It also meant that the young women had less opportunity to work together and support each other towards their competencies than if they were in the same unit.

The site responded to the need by identifying a key site representative who became responsible for communicating with the Award staff and the external provider and keeping the young women updated about key events and activities. The site also engaged key staff at the site who could help the women progress through their competencies. This included participating with the young women on the Adventurous Journey, which also involved tramping around the prison perimeter and camping on site.

The partnership to progress the Award in a women’s facility has provided useful insights, which can help to inform future deliveries to young women in custody, as well as possible expansions to other sites in both male and female facilities outside of youth units.

Benefits of the Award for youth in Corrections

The Duke of Edinburgh Award provides youth in Corrections the opportunity to receive an internationally recognised award which thousands of young people both in New Zealand and around the world are achieving at the same time.

A Youth Justice facility in Rainsbrook, United Kingdom, found that “the young people who achieved significant results in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award are much more likely to have developed a clearer sense of personal identity and of the direction they would like their lives to take in the future”.[2]

Given that there is flexibility in how each of the sections is achieved, we have the opportunity to provide input on how activities can reinforce learning from offence-related rehabilitation programmes. For example, developing skills to manage harmful drug and alcohol use can contribute to the skills development section. The community service section can assist youth in custody to establish pro-social supports. The programme design can also support a tikanga Māori approach such as the application of Te Whare Tapa Whā[3] which strengthens life-style balance. The Award can help youth in Corrections plan for their future in the community by supporting employability and employment pathways, which has the potential to reduce re-offending.

The skills that the young people develop through all sections of the programme, including during the Adventurous Journey, can play a significant role in preparing them and equipping them for their release into the community. They also offer an opportunity for youth to make meaningful connections that can help to create a sense of comfort and familiarity with support networks prior to their release.

Benefits for staff working with youth in Corrections

The Rainsbrook programme review also found that participating in the activities provided staff with a “huge sense of job satisfaction, as they see young people they help achieve in areas the young people would not have formerly thought possible”. They went on to say that “it also enables them to develop further their own skills base and equips them to impart new knowledge to the young people, relevant to their needs and abilities".[4]

During a workshop in 2017, Corrections staff in New Zealand reported it was “the best programme they had ever run” due to the amount of trust that builds up between Corrections officers and the participants.

Next steps

Following the successful delivery of the Award to youth in Corrections custody by external funding and providers, we are now working on an approach that will enable Corrections to deliver all the components ourselves. If possible, this would mean that more sites could deliver the Award to a wider group of eligible youth.

The approach involves identifying interested prison sites which have the experience or ability to deliver the Award. These sites would then be registered as Award units, with onsite Award leaders selected to support implementation, and ensure that youth are able to meet their competencies. Corrections staff would be identified as Award leaders based on their interest in working with youth, the energy to work alongside them, and the skill to motivate and encourage youth to succeed. They would be adequately trained to deliver the programme, with ongoing oversight and support from the Award.

While taking on this responsibility will help to extend the Award to more youth, one of the key benefits is the opportunity to connect youth with the community. To date this has essentially been through the input from the external providers, particularly during the Adventurous Journey. Prison sites will need to consider how best to make links with the community from their sites. While the Adventurous Journey is one option, the community service, skills and physical sections all lend themselves to finding creative ways to involve communities. Connecting with external service providers not only helps to enhance the experience for our youth but also helps communities to better understand the needs and challenges faced by youth in Corrections, and to play a role in helping them to overcome these challenges and to increase their sense of belonging.

“I can now notice that if I need help, it’s there – I just need to look.”
A young man from a Corrections Youth Unit reflecting on his experience of the Award.


The Duke of Edinburgh’s, International Award Aotearoa New Zealand Hillary Award, Retrieved 30 March 2018 from https://dofehillary.org.nz

Rainsbrook STC (2007) ‘The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Team Submision – Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre

[1] The teaching relationship between an older person and a younger person.

[2] The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Team Submission to the GSL Awards for Excellence – Rainsbrook Secure Training.

[3] Te Whare Tapa Whā refers to the four dimensions of well-being:  Taha Tinana (physical well-being); Taha Wairua (spiritual wellbeing); Taha Hinengaro (emotional well-being); Taha Whānau (family well-being)

[4] The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Team Submission to the GSL Awards for Excellence – Rainsbrook Secure Training.