Evaluation of Tāmaua Te Koronga – a prison-based alcohol and other drug programme for young men

“It made me realise it was time to wake up”: Evaluation of Tāmaua Te Koronga – a prison-based alcohol and other drug programme for young men

Jill Bowman
Principal Researcher, Ara Poutama Aotearoa (Department of Corrections)

Author biography

Jill joined the Ara Poutama Aotearoa (Department of Corrections) Research and Analysis Team in 2010, and retired in early 2021. She conducted extensive research on prisoners’ post-release experiences, drug and alcohol use (especially methamphetamine), and the work of probation officers. She has managed a wide range of other projects, including a large-scale study of substance abuse disorders and mental disorders amongst prisoners, literacy and numeracy amongst offenders, and youth desistance.


Recognising a gap in its suite of interventions, the Department of Corrections partnered with local iwi provider Te Taiwhenua O Heretaunga to design and pilot a culturally responsive alcohol and other drug (AOD) programme for young men at Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison (HBRP). Corrections’ desired outcomes for programme participants were to improve their health, increase their participation in other rehabilitation programmes, enable them to function better in society, and reduce their re-offending.

Tāmaua Te Koronga adopts a cultural framework and incorporates Māori health models to address participants’ alcohol and drug issues as well as improving their overall health and wellbeing. It runs as an eight-week group session for men under the age of 25, followed by an after-care phase. Up to 12 people can take part in each group session.

The evaluation of the programme discussed here took place during 2019. The purpose of the evaluation was to understand the impacts the programme was having on participants, and to determine if and how the design and operation of the programme could be further strengthened. Lessons from the evaluation had the potential to inform the development of programmes and interventions envisaged under Hōkai Rangi: Ara Poutama Aotearoa Strategy 2019-2024 (Department of Corrections, 2019) as well as providing a valuable contribution to the Māori pathway at HBRP[1].

A kaupapa Māori evaluator provided advice on the evaluation approach, including holding preparatory meetings with stakeholders, topics to be covered in interviews, and the way interviews should be conducted. She also led many of the interviews. The evaluation commenced with a kōrero with current programme participants and providers in July 2019, covered interviews with programme graduates as well as those delivering the programme, and concluded with a feedback session on findings.


Tāmaua Te Koronga is run alternately in the youth unit and high security in the main prison. In the 15-month period between its commencement in May 2018 and August 2019, when the interviews were undertaken, 61 people across the two units had started the programme. Forty-two participants had graduated. Transfers, releases and exits accounted for the non-completions. Fourteen of the programme graduates, four of whom were in the community, as well as eight Taiwhenua staff and 10 Department of Corrections staff were interviewed for the evaluation.

For the evaluation, programme participants were asked about:

  • their backgrounds
  • their AOD use prior to prison
  • their motivation for doing the programme
  • what they found most useful
  • what could be improved
  • the involvement of their whānau
  • their engagement with aftercare
  • the programme impacts on their wellbeing, motivation to do other programmes, and likelihood of re-offending.

Staff who deliver the programme were asked about:

  • its development and its cultural underpinning
  • its operation, its strengths
  • areas that could be improved.

Corrections staff were asked about:

  • the challenges in running the programme
  • observed impacts on participants
  • programme strength
  • areas that could be further improved.

Two evaluators visited the prison to carry out the interviews, many of which were conducted with both interviewers present.


Most of the graduates who were interviewed attributed their offending to abuse of drugs and/or alcohol, with methamphetamine being a problem for the majority. None had done a prison AOD programme previously. While many acknowledged their initial motivation for taking the programme was to “get a tick” to help with their parole application, they typically became more invested in the programme once underway, with many expressing in interview their newfound desire to give up or reduce their use of drugs or alcohol. Other motivators for completing the programme came from a desire to improve family relationships, become a better father, find employment, stay out of prison, and learn waiata, haka, karakia and mihi.

Participants generally found the programme useful. In respect of alcohol and drugs, they described learning:

  • why they used them, including boredom and thrill-seeking
  • the impact of alcohol and drug use on themselves as well as others
  • that the daily and heavy use some of them saw in their families was not typical
  • tools and strategies for cutting down, or avoiding use, once they were released
  • the link between their problematic use and their offending.

People who were interviewed in the community explained how they were practising the tools they had learnt on the programme to remain alcohol and drug-free.

Participants had varied levels of knowledge of tikanga before they started Tāmaua Te Koronga, and some were hesitant initially about enrolling in a kaupapa Māori programme. Whānaungatanga by the facilitators ensured that participants felt comfortable with the reo and tikanga of the programme. The facilitators noted kaupapa Māori was the context and informed the tikanga and approach to delivery, rather than being a specifically taught cultural component of the programme, so was relevant for everyone.

Most participants were enthusiastic about learning tikanga skills and knowledge – haka, karakia, waiata, pepehā and mihi. They were looking forward to sharing their new skills with whānau, and they were generally able to cope with the level of te reo on the course.

Most said they had learnt useful ways of improving their health, and some had been motivated at the conclusion of Tāmaua Te Koronga to do a more intensive drug treatment programme.

Many of the interviewees said that the programme had encouraged them to think about ways to avoid re-offending once they were released; they could identify their likely risks (returning to alcohol or drug use, anti-social associates, and unemployment) as well as mitigation strategies to minimise these.

Facilitation was identified as a particular strength of the programme, with the facilitators described as caring, encouraging and non-judgemental.

While most of the interviewees found the programme useful, a small number had clearly struggled with the experience: some were vague about the things that they had been taught, or were unable to articulate how the things they had learned might help them. Others expressed the view that the things taught were already familiar concepts from other prison tikanga programmes they had experienced.

Overall, the evaluation indicated that the programme format demonstrated a range of positive attributes. Some key lessons were identified also in terms of ways in which the programme could be further enhanced. One of the main issues was the need for a programme manual to be developed: the absence of this at the time of the evaluation meant that the evaluators were unable to understand how kaupapa Māori supports the programme to achieve AOD outcomes. It also creates a risk of facilitators deviating from core programme principles. Further work seemed advisable also to further develop clear understanding of the clinical basis of the programme.

Although it was intended that the programme should have a strong level of engagement by whānau members, in reality this had proven difficult to achieve, with any involvement largely being restricted to whānau members attending programme graduations. The original conception was that whānau could help encourage rangatahi while they were undertaking the programme, as well as assist in planning for release. These remain important objectives for the programme.

Another issue that will require further attention is follow-up support. Programme staff maintained contact with graduates while they were still in prison, meeting with them to offer “maintenance” type support, but follow-up in the community was restricted to the probation officer’s input. Enhancing aftercare with more structure, including support for people released to other regions, was indicated as necessary.

Although it was too early to assess offending outcomes from the programme, probation officer case notes indicated some notable successes amongst those who had been released. Recorded in these notes were references to young men who had remained abstinent from drugs and alcohol, were working fulltime, had gained a driver’s licence, had handed back gang patches, had reconnected with whānau, and were re-engaged in parenting their children.


Department of Corrections (2019). Hōkai Rangi: Ara Poutama Aotearoa Strategy 2019-2024. Wellington. NZ Government.

[1] The Māori Pathways programme supports the corrections system to be more effective by using kaupapa Māori and whānau-centred approaches.