A number of organisations around the country provide support and advocacy services to prisoners, either while in prison or on their release, and to their families.
PILLARS provides support services to the families and children of prisoners. It originated in 1988 in Christchurch, when a small group of prisoners’ family members began meeting for mutual support, and offered help to other families, including accommodation for out-of-towners, transport to prisons, assertiveness training and family camps. Within a year 55 families were part of the PILLARS network, and initiatives included a radio programme, publications, and a recreation group for prisoners’ children.
The agency expanded in the 1990s, establishing a home for visiting families and an Auckland branch. In the early 21st century PILLARS was contracted by the Department of Corrections to address the reintegration needs of released prisoners and their families. However, the contract ended in 2006, and PILLARS downsized.
When Dad went to prison
Lisa, who established the Just-Us Youth programme at PILLARS, was eight years old when her father was imprisoned. ‘I felt so humiliated that I used to tell people that Dad worked for the Government. I didn’t think that was lying because he worked on the prison farm.’ One day, under pressure from a friend’s father, Lisa blurted out that her dad was in prison. ‘[M]y friend’s father got up, yelled at me and blamed me for embarrassing him in front of his friends. He ordered me out of his house and told me that I was never to come back and I was to no longer associate myself with his daughter. I was so upset and ashamed.’1
In the 2010s PILLARS provided services in Christchurch and South Auckland, including a nation-wide free to call telephone helpline, social work support to prisoners’ families and mentoring for prisoners’ children. It has also researched the effects on children of having a parent in prison. Research highlighted the emotional impact of parents’ imprisonment, financial insecurity, poor educational achievement, and a tendency to engage in risky behaviour. The stigma of having a family member in prison includes the expectation that these children are potential criminals. This increases their risk of becoming prisoners.
Prison Fellowship New Zealand
Prison Fellowship New Zealand is a national volunteer movement with a strong Christian focus, which works to support prisoners, their families and their victims. Prison Fellowship was founded in the United States in 1976, and the New Zealand organisation was set up by Christian businessmen and politicians in 1983. It began as a purely voluntary initiative, but in the 21st century was a national organisation with a number of paid staff. In the 2010s its programmes included:
- prison visits
- mentoring for prisoners released from the faith unit
- the Sycamore Tree Project, which facilitates meetings between crime victims and offenders
- the Angel Tree Project, which provides Christmas gifts to prisoners’ children.
The Salvation Army has worked with prisoners since the 1880s, when it established prison-gate ministries. Inmates being released from prison in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington were met by Salvation Army officers, who worked with them to support their transition back into society. Men’s hostels were set up in Auckland and Christchurch. These continued to provide accommodation, including for newly released prisoners, in the 21st century.
The Salvation Army was also contracted to the Department of Corrections to provide housing and reintegration programmes for released or paroled prisoners. It had houses in Christchurch, Wellington, Hawke’s Bay and Invercargill, where released or paroled prisoners could stay for 11 weeks, under the guidance of support workers. Further support was available as the former prisoners settled into their own accommodation.
Rethinking Crime and Punishment
Rethinking Crime and Punishment (RECAP) was established in 2006 as a partnership between the Salvation Army and Prison Fellowship New Zealand. It encouraged informed public debate about criminal justice reform, argued that a range of social, economic and political reforms were needed to prevent crime and social harm, and promoted alternatives to retributive justice. In 2010 RECAP became part of the Robson Hanan Trust, a charitable trust formed to progress criminal justice reform.
JustSpeak emerged as a youth-led branch of RECAP in 2011, and in 2013 it became the public face of all Robson Hanan Trust operations (with the support of RECAP co-founder Kim Workman). Through advocacy, hosting public events and workshops, publishing reports, and collaborating with external organisations, JustSpeak aims to empower young people from all walks of life to think independently and speak out about justice issues.
People Against Prisons Aotearoa
People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA) is a prison abolition and prisoner advocacy group, originally formed in 2015 as No Pride in Prisons. PAPA works to improve the immediate well-being of incarcerated people while challenging the criminal justice system itself. It also runs the Prisoner Correspondence Network, a pen-pal service that fosters friendship and support between prisoners and the wider community.
Prison Care Ministries is a Hamilton-based Christian organisation, established in 2004. It provided support services including counselling and budgeting advice, group accommodation for released prisoners, and camps for prisoners’ families.
The Pathway Trust, a Christian agency based in Christchurch, supported released prisoners by offering employment, restorative justice meetings and mentoring.
In the 21st century several iwi authorities around the country worked in partnership with prisons as kaitiaki (guardians), to support a tikanga Māori approach and to help with reintegration of released prisoners. Orongomai marae in Upper Hutt ran a reintegration programme for inmates being released from Rimutaka Prison, providing counselling and helping them find jobs and accommodation.
Other organisations that provided services to prisoners in the early 21st century included Alcoholics Anonymous, Toastmasters, the Books in Prisons Trust and the Quilters Guild. Individuals also visited prisons as volunteers, working with prisoners in a variety of ways, from helping with reading and writing to playing indoor bowls to teaching meditation.