Literacy programme aims to reduce reoffending

By Harata Brown

Six female inmates, three of whom are Māori, have graduated from a literacy programme.

The Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, no stranger to New Zealand, the former Prime Minister Helen Clark presented them with their awards.

The literacy programme is the first to be piloted at the Auckland Women's Regional Correction Facility site at Wiri.

One Māori inmate admitted that the program will help towards her rehabilitation and says "the world (we live in) these days, you need tickets for everything, so it would help me a lot, say if I wanted to do an office job."

The New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform is the organisation responsible for the programme. Chief Executive Mike Williams says the course helps inmates to get their drivers licences and helps prevent re-offending. "They learn to read to a reading age of about 10 years, which is enough to read the road code, so effectively they are functionally literate in English,” says Mike Williams.

A representative from The United Nations last year claimed that 50% of the male and 65% of the female prison population are Māori and warned that the high number of Māori in New Zealand prisons was a breach of international law.

According to United Nations Representative Helen Clark, "Although the programme is relatively small, I hope it can roll out everywhere and really get scale because a lot of men and women in our prisons never got the chance to read and that became the problem."

Northern Regional Corrections Commissioner Jeanette Burns  also says "the department is committed to reducing reoffending by 25% by 2017 and it's the individual successes of individual prisoners that will contribute to that overall goal."

The NZ Howard League for Penal Reform are now graduating other prisoners on a regular basis across fifteen correction facilities throughout New Zealand through their literacy programmes.