WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Marae reintegration programme at risk

A prisoner reintegration programme at Upper Hutt’s Orongomai Marae which uses tough love to turn violent offenders into responsible community members is a 12-month contract continually under threat of non-renewal.
Te Hikoitanga is government-funded for 30 people a year but last year put through 56 and there are some 85 on the waiting list for next year.
Dec09GeorgeJoy0758.jpg Social worker Joy Bullen who devised the programme says the programme chooses to work with high-risk violent prisoners because they are the biggest threat to a community.
‘We’ve got a man whose psychological report from the violence prevention unit (VPU) was a disaster and I asked to work with him. He now comes onto the programme we’re running at the moment and talks to our men about the realities of going to prison and being in gangs and of the family impact.
‘He’s been out five years now. It’s that journey. If we take someone, we say to them, “We trust in you. We believe that you can be different. We carry that faith in you until you’re strong enough to carry it for yourself”. And that’s the core for us because if we don’t have those things it won’t work.’
Joy Bullen says unresolved grief is a major factor in many people’s offending. She and George Kupa, who is the only funded worker for Te Hikoitanga, will often tell the Parole Board that they believe a particular prisoner needs grief counselling.
One man who was on parole after serving eight and a half years for rape was threatened with being recalled to prison because he refused to talk to the psychologist.
If a prisoner is ashamed about a crime for which he’s done a reasonable amount of time, they ‘will find it almost impossible to speak to a well-meaning, non-Maori psychologist about that’.
‘We asked if we could have half an hour with him and basically we went in and we did it our way. “What the hell happened? Why did you do that?” And he just fell apart and it was all of that grief that was tied up with what had led to the horrific crime.’
The man’s mother had died just after he went to prison and he had shunned family who repeatedly tried to visit him.
‘He was so ashamed he refused to see anybody. Eight and a half years with no one is a long time.
‘Society might not see it like that but he’d paid his dues over and over again. He needed to just open up. Once he did that he began to heal.’
She criticises the Work and Income assessment criteria as being too outcomes-driven. To keep the programme going and George’s position funded, the programme has to show results in terms of employment outcomes.
‘The fact that the people we work with are very difficult to place in employment makes no difference as the outcomes are the criteria. This programme should be funded for its community value rather than outcomes. If you change people within a community, you strengthen your community. If you just toss someone into the community without the type of support that Te Hikoitanga offers, you keep throwing bombs into your community. Communities have a right to be safe and if we’re going to spend money, that’s where we should spend it.’
The Corrections Department reintegration programme does not work because it is not their core business which is to ensure safe containment, she says.
‘At Rimutaka Prison the reintegration appears to be too little, too fragmented, under-staffed and totally inadequate for the purpose.’ Similarly the main support is often needed outside ‘office hours’ which the prison cannot support at all.
The Ministry of Social Development’s regional commissioner, Lindsay Scott, says the reintegration programme run at Orongomai ‘doesn’t solely focus on getting prisoners jobs on their release and is geared towards helping inmates set themselves up for life outside prison. This may include opening a bank account, finding suitable accommodation and arranging power and phone accounts.
‘Finding work does, however, play a big part and the programme coordinator helps identify suitable work opportunities. The service provided through Orongomai also includes coaching and support, job placement and in-work support.
The reintegration scheme had had ‘good success’ finding jobs for released prisoners. In the year to June 2009, 24 out of 40 clients were placed in work.
‘It’s important to remember that Orongomai is just one scheme to help people adjust to life outside of prison. Other agencies, including the Probation Service, are also involved in helping people get on with their lives once they’re back in the community.
He says Orongomai, which is contracted to provide a service for a minimum of 30 clients, ‘will be reviewed next year’.
‘At this stage there are no plans to cancel the contract but all providers who are contracted by the ministry are subject to reviews to ensure we’re getting the best results for our clients and value for money.’