Speech opening prison library

  • Damien O'Connor

Kia ora.

Welcome and thank you for joining me here to formally open the library at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility.

I would like to thank Dame Georgina for her opening address and welcome all our guests here today – including Dame Cath Tizard, Sir Barry Curtis – and especially the local businesses and organisation which, through the Books in Prison Trust, support of this initiative.

Let me start by saying something with which I am sure you will agree – New Zealand’s prison population is too high.

Today there are more than 7,500 prisoners, including 200 women at this facility, and within five years the prison population is expected to reach the 9,000 mark.

We cannot afford this – either financially, socially, or indeed culturally – we should not want to be known as the country second only to the US in the rate at which we lock people up.

The Government’s Effective Interventions Package was launched in August and is designed to reduce the likelihood of re-offending, while making more effective use of our prison system.

A key part of this strategy is boosting prisoner employment. Many prisoners have difficulties finding employment before going to prison – and they will undoubtedly face significant obstacles to finding employment on release.

That is why prisons have an integral part to play in providing employment, training and learning opportunities.

The provision of library services to prisoners is just one of the many initiatives targeted towards providing prisoners with essential skills and habits to prepare them for a new life once they have completed their sentences.

It is difficult to adjust to a new life on the outside – particularly if you have very little education or work experience. This is the situation in which about half of all released prisoners find themselves.

The prison library provides an opportunity and the environment to promote active learning, and reinforces the prison education ethos.

The Department of Corrections is working with organisations, such as the Books in Prison Trust, to ensure that prisoners have access to books – to either support structured learning or to provide a way for prisoners to make constructive use of their time while in prison.

The Trust provides services to women here and also at Arohata Prison in Wellington and Christchurch Women’s Prison. Across these three sites there are over 14,000 books available to female prisoners. The types of books available range from educational, to cultural, self-help, research and general reading.

The department is working from an already solid base.

At any one time, there are approximately 500 prisoners attending literacy and numeracy classes.

Similarly, 257 prisoners have received a National Certificate in Employment Skills in the past year, learning communication skills, mathematics, how to use a keyboard, how to write formal correspondence, teamwork and problem solving.

These two educational programmes are part of a range of rehabilitative and reintegrative initiatives designed to help prisoners settle in the community on their release. Others you will no doubt be aware of include:

·Programmes to address prisoners’ motivation and criminal behaviour,

·Programmes to assist prisoners to return successfully to their family and community,

·Self sufficiency activities such as cooking, laundry and grounds maintenance,

·Employment training to gain NZQA unit standards/qualifications,

·Business-like activities to assist prisoners to gain employment skills and experience,

·Work parties in the local community,

·Release to work.

The department is also rolling out an additional 500 recycled computers for prisoners over the next six months, which will enable group classes and the use of new non-Internet teaching materials.

And there are more to come. Watch this space.

To finish, I would like to acknowledge the hard work and the joint collaborative efforts of the Trust and the Public Prisons Service, and of course those businesses that support this initiative.

I know we are all united in our hope that prisoners can leave here to become proactive, productive and law-abiding citizens. Thank you all for helping to make that happen.

Thank you.