New Zealand Post supports literacy programme to improve rehabilitation of prisoners

10 August 2012

New Zealand Post will help fund a programme which aims to reduce re-offending by improving the literacy skills of prisoners.

The programme targets functionally illiterate inmates who are serving a short sentence or are on remand (i.e. being held while awaiting trial or sentencing). It places a particular focus on people whose illiteracy is a contributing factor in their offending – for example driving without a license because they lack the skills to complete the written driving test.

As Mike Williams from the New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform explains, sentenced prisoners each have an offender plan which aims to identify factors that may have contributed to their offending.

“Those offender plans typically include objectives such as the prisoner undertaking education, participating in rehabilitation programmes or developing work skills,” Mike Williams says. But since remand prisoners have not yet been convicted or sentenced, they do not have offender plans.

“Many inmates are functionally illiterate, a situation which will make getting a job on release all the more difficult. That helps to create the vicious cycle we see all too often, where former inmates can’t get a job and resort to re-offending.

“The NZ Howard League, with the support of the Department of Corrections, has trialled an approach in several prisons which sees retired primary teachers working with those prisoners to deliver basic literacy programmes.

“Inmates who have completed that programme feel a greater sense of worth – with some telling us that receiving the certificate for completion was the first success they’ve ever really had.

“With New Zealand Post’s support we can now scale that up, to provide illiterate prisoners across New Zealand with a tool that enables them to contribute to society on their release and hopefully escape the cycle of re-offending,” Mike Williams says.

New Zealand Post’s head of sponsorship, Nicola Airey, says the literacy programme for inmates fits in with her company’s long-term support for literacy.

“We’re probably best known in that regard as sponsors of the New Zealand Post Book Awards and the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, but our support for literacy is much broader than simply recognising the elite and our country’s best writers.

“New Zealand Post is a strong supporter of organisations such as Literacy Aotearoa and Duffy Books in Homes – and this new area of sponsorship is compatible with that. We want to encourage all New Zealanders to read, and to write because those are fundamental prerequisites for engaging in work and in society.

“The reality is that almost every prisoner will at some stage re-join society, and we believe they will have a better chance of staying on the straight and narrow if they can read. The goal is to teach prisoners to read and write so they don’t re-offend and can make a contribution to society.

“Let’s not forget that many of those who end up as prisoners have difficulties with literacy which may have, in some part, contributed to some of their poorer life choices.

“A lot of those prisoners also have families and children, who they will eventually return to, and the programme which the Howard League has developed helps to strengthen those family units through things like recording the inmate reading stories for their children, which can then be given to the family to keep the inmate as a presence in the lives of their children.

“The Department of Corrections supports this approach, and New Zealand Post is pleased to be able to support something which has so much potential to help people gain fundamental skills – the absence of which can hinder their progress on their eventual release,” Nicola Airey says.

Around half of the prison population in New Zealand cannot read or write.