• Paul East

I am pleased to be here in Christchurch and I am looking forward to learning more about PILLARS (Prison Inmates Loved ones Linked As one to Renew Strength Inc.)

You may be concerned about the performance of the Government - our opponents, have been strenuously arguing the Government is not working.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I can assure you that, over the past year, Corrections, as with a number of other portfolios, has made steady progress in achieving the commitments outlined in the Coalition Agreement.

I am here to tell you that the Coalition is working. It is working to implement a prudent mix of growth, fiscal responsibility and progressive social policies - based on the Coalition Agreement.

Inmate employment is one area highlighted in the Corrections section of the Coalition Agreement. There are others and progress in these has been considerable.

You know from your own experience that many inmates come into our prisons without any real skills, work ethic or habit of working. Unless they acquire these in prison, they will return to the community with a prison record and little prospect of employment.

It is critical that prisoners who are one day going to be released, are equipped to lead law-abiding lives upon their return to the community. Working while in prison helps them to meet that requirement.

At the moment about 70% of all current inmates are engaged in some sort of work. The Government wants to increase this figure and expand the range of genuine employment opportunities available to all inmates. Obviously, care must be taken to ensure that pre-existing businesses outside of prisons are not unduly affected by our expanded prison industries.

This kind of issue is being worked through by the Department of Corrections in consultation with a variety of interest groups, including: business organisations; labour organisations; prison welfare groups; government departments; and judicial officers.

The Government will soon consider the detailed policy paper on inmate employment.

However, even before the final policy paper has been developed, Corrections has enthusiastically set about the task of identifying possible employment opportunities.

There have already been some 'big-hits', such as Wanganui Prison's shoe manufacturing enterprise as well as a large number of smaller equally interesting enterprises.

The types of opportunities being developed are as diverse as labouring to highly specialised computer-based work.

Existing prison industries are also being reviewed in order to maximise the training and employment opportunities available in each prison region.

A recent review of existing prison industries in the Dunedin/Invercargill region, for example, resulted in recommendations that should increase inmate employment opportunities in that region by 35 positions. When you consider that new ventures will add even more employment opportunities you can see that we are on track to realise our longer-term targets of full employment.

Since this new focus on employment began, an estimated 300+ new jobs have been created.

Giving inmates a job whilst in prison isn't just about keeping them busy. It's also about providing inmates with skills and attitudes that will help them to keep a obtain and keep a job upon release.