Preparing prisoners for a life beyond crime

Otago Corrections Facility senior case manager Stephanie Hoult (right) takes a prisoner through his rehabilitation and reintegration programme at the Milburn jail. Photo supplied.
Otago Corrections Facility senior case manager Stephanie Hoult (right) takes a prisoner through his rehabilitation and reintegration programme at the Milburn jail. Photo supplied.
From the moment prisoners enter jail, they begin to be prepared for release.


Rosie Manins talks to Otago Corrections Facility senior case manager Stephanie Hoult about finding a way forward for those seeking a second chance.

''Tom'' is a functioning member of society and a good news story for Corrections.

After serving a 10-year sentence at the Otago Corrections Facility (OCF) in Milburn, he was recently released subject to conditions by the New Zealand Parole Board and immediately started fulltime employment.

The transition from recidivist offender to taxpayer had a lot to do with his case manager in prison, Ms Hoult said.

''Before his release, his case manager was working really closely with him to make sure that he had as much in place as possible before he got out.''

While still in jail, he was allowed on the release-to-work programme, which meant he could leave the prison for hours at a time to work nearby and could save a small amount of money.

He found supportive accommodation through a community provider, had everything organised with Work and Income and arranged community support through a prisoner aid organisation.

''That was all co-ordinated by his case manager. He was able to gain employment before he got out and even went to the job interview, so he had fulltime employment straight away,'' Ms Hoult said.

''After 10 years he had everything in place, which is the case manager's job - to co-ordinate all of that around him.''

Another success story involved an OCF prisoner on a three-month sentence, who had significant mental and physical health issues.

''He had major needs, nowhere to live when he got out and no employment. His case manager worked really closely with mental health providers, accommodation providers and other community groups to make sure when he walked out the gates there were no cracks he was going to fall through.''

Ms Hoult was one of three senior case managers at the OCF, where there were seven other case managers and a principal manager.

The wider Otago/Southland team also included a principal manager, senior case manager and three case managers at Invercargill Prison.

Each had roughly 40-50 prisoners to manage at any one time, depending on the prison muster.

Ms Hoult said case managers focused on rehabilitation of prisoners and their reintegration into the community.

''The prisoner is allocated a case manager right from the word go, even remand prisoners once they've been there two weeks, and they'll have a case manager right through until the time of release.''

Each new prisoner was assessed and their needs identified, which enabled case managers to assign them to suitable programmes.

''We look at a range of things including what their potential employment might be and any education activities they may be eligible for, then draw up an individualised offender plan,'' Ms Hoult said.

She became a case manager almost three years ago, after spending seven years as a behaviour support specialist for people with intellectual disabilities and, before that, teaching.

Many programmes at the OCF focused on drug and alcohol rehabilitation and others addressed behaviours and thought patterns, she said.

Education programmes included literacy, computing skills and other courses through which prisoners could gain NCEA credits, as well as work-related training inside the prison which enabled prisoners to achieve credits for tertiary qualifications.

Employment opportunities on site included working on the prison's dairy farm, maintaining the prison grounds, staffing the kitchen and laundry, and working in the engineering workshop.

Minimum security prisoners could become eligible for the release-to-work programme, which saw them released into the community during the day to work at nearby premises under controlled conditions.

''The major job of the case manager is to plan a pathway for the prisoners while they're here [in jail], a plan involving rehabilitation, intervention, training and employment opportunities. It's about putting as many things in place as possible for them to have a better chance of working and not reoffending when they are released.''

Ms Hoult said case managers worked closely with probation officers and community organisations close to a prisoner's release date, so the transition from jail to the community was as seamless as possible.

Case managers often had to motivate prisoners to make the most of opportunities, but ultimately most prisoners were pleased with what they achieved come the time of release, she said.

Family members were included in offender plans, as were the prison's uniformed staff and those from partner agencies.

Ms Hoult said the ''offender-centric'' model was being further developed and more people were being involved in prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration, with the aim of reducing reoffending as much as possible.

She said no-one should leave jail without the ability to get a job.

''They are as prepared as they can be, and that's very much the role of the case manager, to make sure everything's in place. It can be very satisfying to see people achieve things, and sometimes it might be the first achievement they've ever really had.''

 

Prisoner preparation half-baked

Last year I had a visit from a friend and a pleasantly-spoken courteous young man, recently released from prison.  

He needed a bank account. Without a bank account he couldn't get a benefit till he could find a job, WINZ requires that.  A bank requires among other things proof of identity, such proofs including a utility account in the applicant's name. Oddly enough the Milton Hilton doesn't have individual power and phone accounts in each prisoner's name.  Not does it as "accommodation provider" have record of prompt rent payments by the prisoner. Without money for food, bond and rent how is a person going to survive until they get a job?  

Teaching prisoners how to get a job is great but first things first - make sure they've got a bank account fully set up before release.

[Abridged]

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