Prison tourney breaks down barriers

By Peter de Graaf

COP THAT: Api Cooper, playing for the police team, is caught by an inmate in the touch tournament final won by police 4-3 in extra time. PHOTO/PETER DE GRAAF
COP THAT: Api Cooper, playing for the police team, is caught by an inmate in the touch tournament final won by police 4-3 in extra time. PHOTO/PETER DE GRAAF

The final game of a touch rugby tournament inside Ngawha Prison pitted inmates against the very people who'd put them there in the first place - the police.

It was part of an initiative to reduce re-offending by young prisoners by helping them form relationships outside jail and convince them police are not the enemy but ordinary men and women doing a job.

The tournament is in its third year but last Thursday's event also featured teams from Corrections and Rural Fire for the first time.

An inmate blocks Corrections staff during the touch tournament at Ngawha prison.
An inmate blocks Corrections staff during the touch tournament at Ngawha prison.

St John ambulance, the Ministry of Social Development and Work and Income were also represented.

After four rounds of 20-minute games police won the hard-fought final 4-3 in extra time. The tournament was organised by youth inmates from the Kea Unit, Shane and Matt (not their real names).

Shane also carved the trophy presented to the victors at a ceremony afterwards.

Matt said just playing against police was huge for many inmates. "Some of the police here are the same ones that arrested them in the first place, or escorted them to court, so it's pretty personal," he said.

"The goal is to see cops as other people, not the enemy.

"The fact is a lot of people in prison hate the police, that's what we're trying to change."

The event had also brought out leadership and boosted confidence among the inmates, and helped break up the monotony of prison life.

Prison director David Pattinson said the tournament had been organised by the prisoners themselves.

It helped create relationships on the outside, prisoners were less likely to offend against people they knew once they had been released, and showed them different life choices.

Many of the people playing last Thursday, from Rural Fire for example, were volunteers for their communities. Research had shown that young offenders, aged 17 to 24, re-offended at a higher rate than any other group, hence the focus on youth inmates of the Kea Unit.

Son Hippolite, playing for the police team, slips between two inmates. Behind him are police officers Jamie Anderson (Paihia) and Matt Morris (Whangarei).
Son Hippolite, playing for the police team, slips between two inmates. Behind him are police officers Jamie Anderson (Paihia) and Matt Morris (Whangarei).

Corrections case manager Lissa Taylor said the good, clean games had helped break down barriers and perceptions on both sides.

The prisoners had been keen to win but were dealing well with their narrow loss.

Some of the Kea inmates are also involved in the prison's sewing programme, making backpacks for children in CYF care and crocheting beanies, mittens and blankets for premature babies.

The tournament's expansion to include Rural Fire and Corrections is part of a long-term initiative to better integrate all Far North's emergency services.

- One of the inmates was overheard saying: "Today's my chance to run away from the cops and not get handcuffed".

- Northern Advocate

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