Plans to offer fresh start to city's former prisoners

By Michele Hunter

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Tommy Wilson and Piki Russell of Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services are planning to get a home up and running for the families of prisoners. Photo/file
Tommy Wilson and Piki Russell of Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services are planning to get a home up and running for the families of prisoners. Photo/file

A rent-free home for recently-released prisoners could follow the success of Tauranga's Whare 4 Whanau home for homeless families.

The house, which staff at Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust hope will be in the Greerton or Merivale area, will house four prisoners' families, offering them a fresh start to a crime-free life.

Despite not having secured funding for the house, Te Tuinga social services manager Piki Russell is adamant "it will come" and expects the house to be operational within months.

"We're definitely working on that," she said.

Trust executive director Tommy Wilson said the Tauranga community needed to look after its own backyard and not wait for Government organisations.

"We're sowing a seed of solution," he said.

Putting prisoners into the Freedom 4 Whanau house would discourage them from committing further crime which could impinge on the safety of the community, he said.

Ms Russell said a lot of prisoners became disconnected from family and had nowhere to go upon release.

"Nowhere other then the environment they came from, which created the problem in the first place," she said.

The loss of a loved one to prison broke down families.

"A lot of the reason why there needs to be a response to it is the families they leave behind when they become incarcerated," Ms Russell said.

Mr Wilson said the house would provide a place for prisoners to be "put back together again", a chance to reunite with their families.

"If you can take care of them as a whole (family) then you're creating wellness," he said.

In New Zealand there are 20,000 children with a parent in prison.

In Greerton, where Te Tuinga is based, there are 400 state houses within walking distance and a number of residents were turning to crime to survive, leading to broken families.

"They get into survival mode," Mr Wilson said.

Other prisoners had relocated to the Bay looking for a fresh start and an escape from their previous life.

"They're lost and lonely and disconnected," he said.

Aside from about 5 per cent of the prison population, most were employable, Mr Wilson said.

A Freedom 4 Whanau stay could result in former prisoners receiving references for landlords and prospective employers.

"Good news travels faster than bad news in a poor community," Mr Wilson said.

Te Tuinga is now working with up to 80 families a week, compared to about 10 a week in previous years.

Housing is the top issue, followed by budgeting, WINZ advances, employment issues, family and domestic violence, immigration and crisis situations.

Ms Russell said the complexity of needs had also increased hugely. In the past, families would have to face only one of these issues, whereas it could now be up to five at a time.

The organisation currently has 14 staff and Government funding for just five.

"We're overworked and under-resourced but we don't stop doing what we do," Ms Russell said.


Being on probation

Probation is when someone is released from prison or is serving a community sentence.

Offenders usually have to follow standard conditions and maybe special extra conditions if they are in the community.

The conditions specify things like where they can or cannot live, how often they must report to their probation officer and, in the case of serious offences, what kind of locations and activities they must avoid.

If an offender doesn't follow the conditions set for them they could be fined, get another sentence or be sent to prison.

- Department of Corrections

- Bay of Plenty Times

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