Social work and the un-justice system

This is a guest post from Bex Rillstone. Bex graduated the MSW(P) Programme, University of Auckland, in 2018. She has worked as a housing social worker in South Auckland and as a Family Start social worker with a kaupapa Māori NGO. Bex now works in a male prison, delivering rehabilitation programmes. She also sits on the Labour Party Justice Policy Committee, advocating for changes within the Justice and Corrections systems.

I have been working in a men’s prison for almost two years now. There is something unsettling about working within a Justice system that remains so fundamentally unjust. Many people have asked me why I choose this line of work. The answer is that I purposely chose to move towards my fear rather than away from it. I already knew, from international research and national recidivism rates, that the prison system doesn’t work – for perpetrators or for victims.

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Education for people in prison: How, why and what’s the point?

In the latest RSW podcast Emily Keddell interviews Fairleigh Gilmour, an academic in Gender studies and Criminology at the University of Otago. Fairleigh has run a volunteering programme into the Milton prison for a number of years, after discovering how few students in her criminology classes had ever been into a prison. Her programmes involve recruiting and training students to develop their own classes and run them for men in the local prison.

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Hōkai Rangi: Cultural solutions to material problems.

This guest blog post is by Kendra Cox (Te Ure o Uenukukōpako, Te Whakatōhea, Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou), National Advocacy Co-Coordinator for People Against Prisons Aotearoa and BSW (Hons) student at the University of Auckland.

A fortnight ago, the Department of Corrections proudly released their new Māori strategy, Hōkai Rangi. The strategy was created with the aspiration to reduce the proportion of Māori in prison from the current 52% to 16%, reflecting the make-up of the general population. Corrections aims to do this by focusing on six key domains outlined in the report: partnership between the Crown and Māori; humanising and healing; involvement of whānau; incorporating te ao Māori; supporting whakapapa and relational identity; and participation in society on release. With Hōkai Rangi, Corrections rightly identifies that the current prison system is failing in its supposedly rehabilitative and reintegrative aims. The strategy notes that reimprisonment rates are unacceptably high: 35% of tauiwi people return to prison within two years of release, and this is much higher for Māori at around 50%. However, the plans presented by this strategy, which centre largely around supporting whānau connection and tikanga Māori-based rehabilitation, are totally incapable of achieving the desired outcome.

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Professionals against prisons Aotearoa

A guest blog post by Kendra Cox (BSW student, University of Auckland and organiser with People Against Prisons Aotearoa. Iwi affiliations Te Ure o Uenukukōpako, Te Whakatōhea, Ngāi Tuhoe and Ngāti Porou)

A few weeks ago the recently elected Labour-led government announced that they are considering taking up the torch for the proposed Waikeria prison expansion floated under the National party in 2016 (Department of Corrections, 2016). The prospective expansion to the Waikato facility, just south of Te Awamutu, has ballooned from an extra capacity of 1500 to 3000 in the last eighteen months (Fisher, 2018a; Otorohanga District Council, 2017). The newest figures would raise the capacity of Waikeria Prison from 778 to nearly 3800, a higher number than our three largest correctional facilities combined. This ‘mega-prison’ has been celebrated by some, who are keen to see the influx of cash and jobs to the rural Waikato (Biddle, 2017). But the rapidly increasing prison population, which exceeded 10,000 last year and is now nearly 10,700 (Fisher, 2018a), has to be measured in more than just economic stimulation for the regions. Mass incarceration in Aotearoa should be measured instead by the human cost of families and communities ripped apart, of lives destroyed, and of social problems that continue to find a foothold and flourish in an increasingly unequal society.

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