Kia Rite: Evaluation of a new behavioural skills programme for women

Dr Bronwyn Morrison - Principal Research Adviser, Department of Corrections

Marianne Bevan- Senior Research Adviser, Department of Corrections

Lucy King- Principal Adviser, Department of Corrections

Author biographies:

Bronwyn Morrison has a PhD in Criminology from Keele University, UK. She has worked in government research and evaluation roles for the last 13 years. Since joining Corrections as a Principal Research Adviser in 2015 she has undertaken projects on prisoners’ post-release experiences, family violence perpetrators, remand prisoners, women in prison, and Corrections Officer training.

Marianne Bevan started at Corrections in May 2014, and has completed a range of projects related to the offending, treatment and management of female offenders. Prior to working at Corrections, she conducted research, and implemented projects on gender and security sector reform in Timor-Leste, Togo, Ghana and Liberia.

Lucy King 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 Programmes and Interventions 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 and male and female offenders.


“When I came to jail I thought my life was over. There’s nothing out there for me anymore. I’ve ruined my life, I won’t be able to get a job, I’ve lost everything coming to prison … from this broken mess Kia Rite picked me up and put me back on the path where I should be.” (Young, Māori Kia Rite graduate serving her first prison sentence)

Kia Rite (which translates to “get ready”) is a three week information and skills training programme originally designed for delivery to women within the early stages of incarceration. It was introduced as part of the Department’s Women’s Strategy, Wāhine – E rere ana ki te pae hou[1], and was informed by New Zealand and international research, which has highlighted the challenges women face when entering prison (see Bevan & Wehipeihana, 2015; Bevan, 2017; Morrison, Bowman & Bevan 2017 Crewe, Hulley and Wright, 2017; Moore & Scraton, 2014; Wright et al 2012; Covington & Bloom 2007; Greer, 2002; Owens 1998; Carlen, 1998, 1983).

Kia Rite aims to give wāhine (women) the information and skills required for the successful navigation of prison life. This includes providing women with information on key prison processes and services, as well as teaching emotional, communication, and relational skills which can help them to successfully cope with living in prison. It further aims to enhance women’s motivation for change and help prepare them for participation in rehabilitative, industry and learning opportunities while in prison and beyond.

The pilot

The programme was piloted at Auckland Regional Women’s Correctional Facility (ARWCF), Arohata Women’s Prison, and Christchurch Women’s Prison between February and March 2018. The pilot’s implementation was innovative in two ways: first, Kia Rite was designed to be co-facilitated by programme facilitators and other prison-based staff, including custodial officers, case managers, social workers and trauma counsellors; second, it involved the delivery of behavioural skills such as emotional management and mindfulness, material usually reserved for criminogenic programmes for sentenced prisoners, to remand prisoners.

Each site ran three iterations of the programme, with some local variations in delivery. Key variations included the programme operating in an open, rolling format in Christchurch Women’s Prison, and to a lesser extent at ARWCF, whereby new women could join the programme each week. At Arohata the programme was run using a closed format. In addition to this, the full co-facilitation model was attempted at Auckland only.

Over the course of the pilot, 58 wāhine commenced Kia Rite, and 35 completed it. This represents a completion rate of 60%. Most participant attrition occurred due to releases or transfers, rather than women being exited or opting to leave the programme. Three-quarters of those who completed the programme were remand-convicted at the time they began Kia Rite, and the remainder were sentenced. Almost two-thirds had been on remand for less than six months at the time they started the programme. Kia Rite was designed for those new to the prison system, although only a minority of those who started the programme were in prison for the first time. Just over half the participants identified as Māori, with the majority of the remainder identifying as NZ European. The median age of attendees was 30 years old. There were four wāhine aged under 20, and four aged over 50 years.

Group numbers varied by site and across the duration of the pilot. At Arohata and Christchurch Women’s groups typically began with six women and reduced over the course of the programme. At ARWCF group sizes were larger, with 10 to 12 women starting each iteration.

The evaluation

The Department’s Research and Analysis team undertook a brief evaluation of the pilot in order to understand what was working well and why, and identify improvements needed prior to the full national roll out of the programme. The evaluation included the analysis of data drawn from pre- and post-programme questionnaires (54 pre and 35 post), administrative data analysis, and 32 face to face interviews with programme participants (n=21), programme facilitators (n=4), custodial officers (3), case management staff (2), a trauma counsellor and a social worker. For a full account of the methodology see Bevan and Morrison (2018).


Kia Rite was very well received by both wāhine and staff, and was considered a necessary and important addition to the existing programme repertoire in women’s prisons.

“The girls loved it. Learning new things … it gave us insight into everything.  There was never a lack of having enough information.” (Kia Rite programme participant)

“I think it’s absolutely necessary to have such a thing … I just love the idea that [Kia Rite] explored being in prison, what it’s like in prison and actually acknowledging that it’s not easy here: it’s difficult. I love the fact that if we capture the women early on, newish to prison … it’s great for settling and upskilling them … It might be their first ever experience of the group setting and if it goes well I think they are more likely to be open to the idea of a rehabilitation programme or some programme.” (Programme facilitator)

“I found it was a very good programme … the women found it really helpful.” (Custodial Officer involved in delivering Kia Rite)

Despite having been designed for those new to the prison system, even those who had previously served multiple prison sentences claimed to have made positive gains through the programme. Without exception, those who completed the programme said that it met their expectations, and almost all (97%) said the behavioural skills techniques obtained through Kia Rite would be useful both inside prison and beyond. Particular strengths of the programme are detailed below.

Improved knowledge of prison rules, processes and opportunities

At the outset of the programme almost two-thirds of women claimed they were not aware of how to access rehabilitation programmes, education or employment opportunities in prison, or where to go to get advice and help. Despite the fact that many wāhine had previously spent time in prison, a quarter also claimed that they did not adequately understand prison processes such as property access, grocery purchase orders, prisoner trust accounts, and case management.

Following the programme, levels of understanding improved in all areas. Almost two-thirds of women revealed an improved understanding of how to access opportunities in prison, while over half developed an increased awareness of where to go to get help in prison. Despite many claiming high levels of knowledge about prison processes at the outset of the programme, almost half (48%) showed improved knowledge in this area. These positive results were reinforced by participants during interviews. For example, many noted the benefit of hearing about rules and processes first-hand from staff, rather than relying on other wāhine who did not always have an accurate understanding of the rules. Learning about “how things worked” in prison could also exert a motivational effect. For example, one woman explained how learning about the security classification system in prison, particularly the additional opportunities available for women housed in low security settings, encouraged better behaviour:

“[The Principal Corrections Officer] did explain to us about classification and all that stuff. That got the girls thinking they should start to behave, to get [to low security] and see what it’s like. I did. I thought I’d better start sharpening up and keeping out of drama. I wanted to get to low security. That was my goal”.

Better understanding of different roles in prison and increased empathy for staff

At the outset of the programme almost two-thirds of women indicated they did not have a good understanding of the roles of different staff working within the prison, and a low awareness of the counselling and social work services available to them. Following the programme, two thirds reported an improved understanding of staff roles. Interviews further revealed that participants valued the opportunity to meet the different types of staff that would be working with them and obtain a better understanding of the services on offer. Staff also welcomed the opportunity to explain their roles and inform women both about what they could expect from staff, but also to convey what staff expected from them. As one senior custodial staff member noted:

“I think it’s important if you’re in charge, [Kia Rite] is an opportunity for you to be in front of the women so they know who you are … it’s also about what I expect. I expect them to be housed in a safe environment. I’ve got a duty of care to them, and if that’s not happening, you know, who they can talk to.”

Case management staff also talked about the utility of explaining the case management process first hand which had helped manage women’s expectations about what would happen and when. At one site it was noted that the provision of such explanations had reduced the level of complaints received by case managers. The attendance of social workers and counsellors on Kia Rite had also lead to an increased awareness of these services and was associated with an increase in self-referrals.

Being able to meet staff and “put a face to a name”, alongside developing a better understanding about how services and processes actually worked, also encouraged Kia Rite participants to develop greater sense of empathy for staff and was credited by participants with improving relationships between staff and the women:

“You need to explain to them in a way that [custodial staff] understand, and then they can show compassion or empathy. Those words I learned from Kia Rite too. They can’t empathise with you if you don’t state the whole thing.”

“I’d hate to be a screw … there’s just girls 24/7 saying ‘I want ra, ra, ra’. I’m a prisoner and I can’t even handle it … I have a lot of respect for them … I wouldn’t put up with it, no way.”

Strong sense of whānaungatanga developed among wāhine

Post-programme questionnaire results revealed that developing a sense of whānaungatanga[2] was a key strength associated with Kia Rite. In fact most women indicated that the sense of group belonging they derived was the best aspect of the programme. Wāhine acknowledged that friendships forged through Kia Rite were a significant asset given the potentially volatile nature of remand units, and were particularly important for those who had not previously been to prison and, consequently, lacked peer support structures:

“Doing the course and getting to know the girls gave me a hub of girls that I still am really close to now.  It’s hard for me to bond with people because I’m quite shy and I don’t talk much. I’m a bit of a softie. The girls on the course that we made bonds with, they’ve become really close and good friends. I found that was awesome.”

Māori cultural content was highly valued by participants

Kia Rite was specifically designed to be culturally relevant to wāhine Māori, given the significant over-representation of Māori in women’s prisons. The evaluation found that the cultural content of the programme was, without exception and irrespective of ethnicity, highly valued by participants. Nine in ten women agreed that the Te Whare Tapa Whā model (Durie, 1985) had made sense to them and was a useful lens through which to consider how to constructively utilise their time in prison and what changes they might make following release. Women felt that the daily use of karakia and waiata increased their sense of whānaungatanga and helped them to transition from the busy context of remand units to the calm mind set needed to focus on the programme content. Several participants enjoyed the links made in the programme between Atua (Māori gods) and emotions, while the inclusion of the concept of kawa (agreed programme protocols) as a korowai (a protective cloak) was considered useful by facilitators.

Mindfulness, emotional management and distress tolerance helped women cope in prison

One of the most widely cited benefits of Kia Rite was that it gave women the knowledge and skills to cope with difficulties in prison. Women were often anxious when they arrived in prison and found the mindfulness activities helped to calm them down and come to terms with their situation. Mindfulness further helped women deal with the stresses of prison, including the difficulties of being away from children and the physical realities of prison, such as the constant noise. Many wāhine now commonly used karakia, writing, reading, and drawing as methods to distract themselves, cope with prison, and process emotions:

“I’ve got little methods and little things that I go through that help me every day. That’s really awesome. You’ve got karakia, mindfulness things, that type of thing. How to control your stress, especially the days when you’re really down and out … [I] write poems, write how I feel on paper and take it out.”

Kia Rite helped women learn new strategies to manage difficult emotions more productively. Women in prison have often experienced trauma in their pasts and it is common for them to block emotions as a coping mechanism (see Bevan, 2017). Wāhine spoke of the important role the emotions sections of the programme played in helping them, sometimes for the first time, understand and acknowledge their emotions. Through this, many women realised they were not alone and could be open with people, and many claimed that would now be more amenable to seeking and accepting support in future. Kia Rite also provided wāhine with practical tools which they were actively using to manage stress and anger. This, in turn, helped women settle into prison and start preparing to take advantage of the rehabilitation and reintegration activities available to them in prison:

“I started using the tools straight away, instantly.  The day we learnt about mindfulness I started using them that day.  I went back to the unit and started using them.  I was a very angry person, I grew up an angry kid, I grew up with a lot of anger.  I was that type of person to lash out and hit.  Learning how to be mindful and slow things down and think about consequences, I’m over in low [security] now and I’ve been here three months …I’m doing awesome.”

Wāhine often described sharing these lessons with other wāhine in the unit, as well as with their children and others outside of prison, and anticipated being able to use these skills when they were released.

Increased motivation and improved programme readiness

Most of the women interviewed said they were already motivated to change and take advantage of opportunities in prison prior to starting the programme; however, Kia Rite often consolidated women’s motivation to change by highlighting the opportunities available and helping them to set short-term prison-based goals. This motivated some women to more positively focus their energies on taking advantage of opportunities in prison. Even for women who were already “goal setters”, Kia Rite helped them to move past the initial shock of imprisonment and start planning what they would do during their sentence: :

“In here I wouldn’t have no goals, I didn’t know what goals to set to do in here because it’s jail. It actually brought me back into setting goals. Before I was quite sad and miserable when I first came in here. Doing the course motivated me back into what I needed to do, how to focus on doing stuff in order to get out of here.”

Wāhine serving their first prison sentence were often mildly apprehensive of the prospect of participating in group-based rehabilitation programmes. Kia Rite also served as an important stepping stone for those not familiar with rehabilitative programmes by helping wāhine overcome anxiety about learning in group settings and thereby increasing programme readiness:

“I feel a lot better about going into a group environment, a group setting and it’s sort of, I know it’s only like three weeks, but it fits into the routine of going to something every day which I haven’t done for a long time … you sort of get past that first step of like ‘I don’t want to do that, there’s a bunch of people I don’t know,’ then it sort of becomes easier just to do it again.”

Encouraged women to take responsibility and increase their sense of agency

The programme also encouraged some women to take responsibility for their actions which made them feel more in control of their lives and feel they had the ability to do things differently on the outside. Previous research on women’s experiences in prison in New Zealand (Bevan, 2017) has shown the need for appropriate “pre-work” with women to ensure they have the confidence and coping skills to engage in intensive rehabilitation. The review showed that Kia Rite acts as a useful first step in women’s rehabilitation and reintegration pathway through prison.

Lessons learned

While the Kia Rite pilot was highly successful, the evaluation identified some specific improvements which could further enhance delivery. These improvements are briefly noted below.

The adoption of a guest speaker model would optimise staff involvement

While there were many benefits obtained through involving other prison staff in the delivery of Kia Rite, it was widely agreed that staff participation would be better if it were delivered through a “guest speaker” format rather than a co-facilitation model. This was partly because few staff possessed well-developed facilitation skills, but also due to the particular characteristics of women on remand, which, it was felt, necessitated quite advanced facilitation skills to manage effectively. A number of participants also identified additional people they would like to attend the programme as “guests”, including staff from education, prison training and industries, and a mentor/role model wāhine.

Rationalisation of programme content would improve delivery quality

While the programme content was positively viewed by participants, it was noted by both staff and participants that the volume of content to be covered could at times jettison important group-based discussions about how to apply lessons to the women’s own lives (whether in prison or beyond). Therefore, while different tools were favoured by different participants, it was widely felt that “less was more” and that teaching fewer “tools” more thoroughly would be of greater benefit. This was particularly important given the sometimes sensitive nature of discussions. The programme was behavioural skills based rather than therapeutic, but discussion of emotions and feelings with women inevitably brought out disclosures of difficult experiences, such as sexual and physical violence, and grief. It is therefore important that facilitators have enough time to deal sensitively with these topics when they arise.

It was also felt that the “induction” content contained in the programme could be rationalised, with some content removed and delivered as part of an enhanced unit-based induction delivered by custodial staff. A separate project is already underway within the Women’s Strategy to improve the quality and consistency of induction processes in women’s prisons.

The realities of female remand populations requires flexible delivery options

It was generally agreed that Kia Rite was best suited for women new to the prison system and, to be of greatest benefit, should ideally be delivered within the first month of arrival. While sound in practice, the high turnover and short average stays of female remand prisoners means that in practice that timing programme delivery can be challenging. For example, in the 2017/18 year, there were only 226 women who were both new to prison and spent a minimum of five weeks on remand (allowing for the accumulation of sufficient women to run a programme and the delivery of a three week programme). Of course, in reality it is sometimes hard to predict in advance just how long individuals will remain on remand, and, with the exception of ARWCF, the numbers arriving in remand each week who are new to the prison system, and who have sufficient time to complete Kia Rite, can be small. To overcome this challenge, a flexible approach to delivery has been adopted for the national roll-out, which enables sites to change the format and duration of the programme to suit local needs.

It was also the case that women who had been to prison before or been on remand for long periods still derived benefits from the programme, although these women tended to find the “induction” content less useful. It was generally felt that, with some adaptation, Kia Rite could be advantageous to women at different stages of their prison journey, including on arrival to prison, at the start of sentence, and as a primer for more substantial rehabilitation programmes, particularly in situations where women may have previously been exited from such programmes.

Looking into the future, the challenge for Kia Rite will be to ensure the delivery of the right content, to the right types of people, at the right time. This will likely require flexibility in both the programme content and delivery format, which will also necessitate a degree of local variation to ensure the programme works optimally at a site level.

The national roll-out of Kia Rite: what’s happening next?

The national roll-out of Kia Rite commenced at the beginning of August 2018. The results from the evaluation have provided the basis for refining the Kia Rite delivery model and programme content.

As noted above, a flexible delivery model has been retained so that each region can decide the most effective mode of delivery for the cohort commencing a programme. The programme can be delivered to either smaller or greater numbers of wāhine. It can be delivered as an open programme where new wāhine can enter at three places during delivery.  Alternatively it may be delivered as a closed programme, whereby no new wāhine can join the programme after it has commenced.

Kia Rite can be sole facilitated or co-facilitated by trained programme facilitators depending on the numbers of wāhine in attendance. Both modes of delivery will include guest speakers from custodial staff, case management staff, social workers, and counsellors/trauma counsellors. Other guest speakers from prison industries, education, and reintegration will be invited to provide information as is relevant to the wāhine attending. The co-delivery of Kia Rite is advantageous in a number of respects. For example, programme facilitators provide expertise in group facilitation and treatment, trauma counsellors assist in the acquisition of skills and coping mechanisms, and the prison staff provide information and support in navigating prison life. Similarly, staff from prison industries, education and reintegration can share information around their areas of expertise. This process also provides opportunity for wāhine to establish supportive connections with staff (Welsh, 2018).

The Kia Rite programme content has been revised and substantially reduced in volume; however, key concepts and skills, including mindfulness and distress tolerance skills, as well as emotional and relationship management, have been retained. It is anticipated that the reduced volume of content will provide the wāhine with the opportunity for more skills practice. This is specifically based on providing instruction, modelling adaptive behaviours, behavioural rehearsal and feedback, that have collectively been proven to help embed new behaviours and skills. The Māori cultural content has been more consistently woven through the programme so that wāhine have the opportunity to benefit from using the Te Whare Tapa Whā model throughout the programme.

[1]Corrections Womens Strategy August 2017
[2] Belonging, togetherness, family


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