I came over to New Zealand in 2006. Prior to that, I was a scientist – pharmacology. I’ve worked in mental health as well.
I wanted a people-based job and that’s why I came to New Zealand. The prison was advertising and to cut a long story short I started Corrections in 2007, initially as a prison officer and then I went into risk mitigation for release work prisoners. Then I went into case management, and sentence planning in the prison. I hated that because it was really just a glorified report writer. There wasn’t really any interaction, there wasn’t any support that sentence planners or case managers were meant to give prisoners. It was just a report process for the board. Basically all the offenders’ information would go on the computer and the computer would spit out what programme they should do. And they’re not always right, you know what I mean?
One thing that did frustrate me was that even if a prisoner didn’t meet the criteria for the programme, because they had to have bums on seats the manager would say, “well look, these programmes aren’t being filled, we need these people to do these programmes to justify the funds.” So they were doing overrides for these prisoners to do the programmes.
When I was a release work broker, my job was to find jobs in the community for prisoners. So they’d get unlocked in the morning, go to work during the day like anybody else, and then come back at night and be locked back up. There was a certain criteria – you have to be ‘minimum security.’ In the security system they have different points for different things and on those points it depends whether you get minimum, low-medium, medium-high, whatever.
There’s nothing in the security system to reward those people who are doing a programme. Basically the only way that their security classification can drop is if it’s overwritten by a principal case officer. So your PCO’s got to like you, to do that override. Or you’ve got to have a PCO who actually looks outside the box, because otherwise you won’t ever reach minimum.
During that role, people were doubling up on their programmes, and because of this bums on seats policy they would actually be pulled from release work and they’d have to go back to do a programme. Isn’t life about employment and stability? It was really frustrating.
When I was doing release work, Phillip Smith absconded to Brazil. Instead of putting the responsibility where it belonged, the prison manager came in to see myself and my colleague who were doing release work and said, “the boys are coming in tonight and they’re not going back to work, they’re never going back – you’ve got to tell the guys and you’ve got to tell the employers that they’re not going back.” And that’s it. Nothing. All gone.
Obviously we had quite a few irate employers. I mean some of these guys have been out in the community for twelve months and never done anything wrong. We had guys who were on preventative detention out in release work and doing really really well, and the employers were absolutely livid!
Release work in Canterbury was really really successful – we actually had employers coming to us for prisoners to work. The way we used to work is that 80% of them would keep their jobs upon release and the other 20% were mainly seasonal so they’d been relocated to Dunedin or going back up north or to Nelson or wherever.
We had some at Pegasus engineering, we had some at BidFood over at Harewood Road, some at Craddocks, at the airport. That was real hard getting them in there, because we went to the manager of Craddocks and she said we’d have to meet the HR ladies. We met the HR ladies and the HR ladies wanted us to meet the CEO, so we went all the way up the chain.
It wasn’t just about earning funds while they were in prison, it was about sustainability and getting back on track. And that’s what a lot of people need. They just need that stability, someone to believe in them. That’s one of the reasons I’m in the role – I like to give people the opportunity. I like to support people. Everyone makes mistakes in life, some of them are just a bit more of a varying degree, you know!
I got fed up with all the politics and the bureaucracy. The way they advertise it is ‘come and make a difference, come and be a corrections officer.’ It’s crap. You can’t. You can’t make a difference at a significant level. You can make a difference one-to-one with people that you work with, but you can’t actually get anywhere and progress things. I know one guy who loved prison over in the UK, but worked in prisons over here – he got frustrated with them. After 6 months he’d had enough, went to work at the airport instead.
I think it’s really badly run. There’s obviously lots of control freaks that have got charge of the steering wheel. I think we’re letting prisoners down. They’re people. People forget that they’re people. It should be people-focused, not risk-focused, if we’re going to actually get anywhere.