‘Both sides take a lot away’

Ministerial visit . . . Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis listens to an inmate describe his work. PHOTOS: JACK CONROY

Everyone deserves a second chance.

That was the spirit in which about 80 people from different businesses and government agencies visited the Otago Corrections Facility this month to find out what was involved in taking on ex-offenders as workers.

Prison director Dave Miller opened the March 14 event at the facility’s whare.

“It’s really great to see everybody here,” he said.

“This is the sixth time we’ve run this event, and both sides take a lot away from it . . . Employment is the most effective way to prevent these guys from reoffending once they leave.”

Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis was also there to welcome employers to the open day before they toured the grounds.

He said it helped when employers started seeing those incarcerated in corrections facilities as not just prisoners, but people who could make a meaningful contribution to society once they were released.

“You’re one of our most valuable assets in reducing the prison population and keeping our community safe . . . When you get to the part in the application which says an applicant has a criminal record, please don’t write that person off straight away – ask a few more questions.”

The visitors were split into groups to inspect various work stations around the facility.

In the metalwork area the inmates were working on rubbish skips to be shipped to Christchurch.

Gaining skills . . . An inmate at Otago Corrections Facility does some welding.

“We’ve got a relationship with an outlet up there,” prison officer Caleb Gray said.

“We’ve been branching out and making bigger bins. Working on six at the moment.”

The inmates worked from 8.30am to 3.15pm, Monday to Friday, and were able to work towards a national certificate in mechanical engineering and different welding unit standards.

“But it isn’t necessarily about what qualification they get here, but that they’re learning to learn and learning to listen.

“Once you’ve achieved a few things, you can transfer it.”

Some ex-offenders had found work in roading or on farms or fishing boats.

The prison also offered opportunities to gain experience and qualifications in catering, barista skills, laundry and horticulture.

Mr Davis said it was “great” to see the support the inmates were receiving to ensure they were equipped for work when they left.