Maori monarch King Tuheitia has made a rare visit to Hawke's Bay to learn more about how the locals run a prisoners' pre-release programme compared to the running of the same project at a prison north of Hamilton.

Te Whare Oranga Ake, run by iwi-connected contracted service providers, was introduced in 2011 at Hawke's Bay Prison, near Hastings, and later at Spring Hill, near Te Kauwhata.

It is aimed at minimising risks of reoffending after prisoners are released, particularly those who have been longer-term inmates and who may have issues reconnecting with a world and communities vastly changed during their incarceration.

The emphasis is on education, training and employment, and taking the offender into the community to establish the connections and support networks necessary for positive reintegration, including accommodation and relationships.

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The Corrections Department has established a 24-bed outside-the-wire accommodation unit near the prison in Hawke's Bay, where the service is run by Kahungunu Health Services, under the name Choices, and another of 16 beds near Spring Hill, where the service is delivered by Ngati Naaho, linked to the office of the King. Security is provided by Corrections officers.

A welcome for the King and his small entourage took place at Waipatu Marae, on the northeastern outskirts of Hastings, where a manager of the Hawke's Bay programme said: "We've had a few successes."

The King's principal private secretary, Rangi Whakaruru, said: "We are very interested to see what Ngati Kahungunu does differently. We are looking to pick-up early-release programmes, because some of these people don't need to be in jail."

Ngati Kahungunu chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana told Hawke's Bay Today some of the inmates "have never seen an ATM," and later, never one to miss an opportunity, treated the King to a post-kai presentation of a five-year Kahungunu plan to take Maori to the world, endorsed in August by the iwi chairmen's forum. Employment opportunities are a key focus and also included are visions raised with the Kahungunu investment in Animation Research Ltd, announced last week.

King Tuheitia, and others in his group including Ngati Naaho chairman Brad Totrewa and Kingitanga social services arm chairman Peter Rogers, were due to visit Te Whare Oranga Ake last night.