New jail will require hundreds of volunteers, says church

By Simon Collins

Renae Josephs and her daughter Heaven. ABOVE: Mark Beale. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Renae Josephs and her daughter Heaven. ABOVE: Mark Beale. Photo / Steven McNicholl

A church that has opened its doors to women released from the Wiri women's prison says 800 volunteers will be needed when a new men's jail opens next door - and it doesn't know where they will come from.

Volunteers from St Elizabeth's Anglican Church in Clendon have been visiting inmates in the 464-bed women's prison since it opened in 2006 because it is in their parish.

The church offers "wraparound" support for women when they leave the jail, including a halfway house bought last December for $268,000, which has stretched the low-income, largely Pacific and Maori congregation to its limits.

But vicar Mark Beale, who founded the church 23 years ago, does not know how it will cope with men from the neighbouring 1060-bed men's jail which has been given draft approval to open in April 2015.

"We'll have to cope because they are going ahead and building it, but it's a very daunting challenge," he said.

"A prison of 1000 would need 800 volunteers, so where are those 800 volunteers? A lot of the stuff in prisons is done by volunteers, and it should be because that creates the link to the outside community. The volunteer factor is the critical factor for rehabilitation."

Prison Fellowship national director Robin Gunston said 4600 volunteers were registered with the prison system, 86 per cent of them from churches.

He is recruiting churches and other groups such as Rotary and Zonta clubs to train as "target communities" that can visit inmates in jail and then provide Clendon-style wraparound support totalling 1500 hours over their first two years after release.

Mr Beale, whose parish is one of Auckland's first four target communities, said each ex-prisoner needed about seven volunteers to help with tasks such as finding housing, work or benefits, reconnecting with children and other relatives, and just be friends.

"It's all to do with relationships," he said.

The first resident in the church's halfway house, Renae Josephs, 35, came out of jail in December with an 11-month-old baby, Heaven, who was born in prison. Her three older children had lived with their grandmother for three years and had to get to know their mum again.

"My oldest boy went through a hard time adjusting," she said.

Before jail, her life was "a mess". She grew up in Otara, her parents split when she was 13 and she joined a Mongrel Mob touch rugby team.

She became addicted to methamphetamine and was jailed for selling it.

But a year into her two-year jail term, she resolved to change.

"I realised I wasn't going anywhere. I didn't want to get out and go back down the same track."

She got into programmes for drug addiction, parenting and Tikanga Maori. And she started attending church services with Mr Beale's team and other churches that visit the prison on a roster. "I just liked it, I liked the people," she said.

When she was due for parole, she needed an address to be paroled to. Her partner was in jail. Her mother's house was already full with her brother, his family and Ms Josephs' children. Another brother had five children, and her third brother was just out of jail.

"I had nowhere to go," she said.

St Elizabeth's bought the halfway house, furnished it and got the power on in the church's name because of Ms Josephs' bad credit record. It got her a benefit and a bank account.

"I didn't have the proper ID for the bank. Westpac wouldn't help us, so we went to Kiwibank and they said once I got my community card they could use that," she said.

"Work and Income wouldn't give me a benefit without a bank account."

Ms Josephs' partner, who came out of jail two months ago, is now working with a handyman who is a member of the church congregation.

Ms Josephs has done a budgeting course run by the church.

"I never thought I'd come to church. Now I love coming to church," she said. Asked how long she planned to stay in the house, she said: "I want to stay there forever."

ON THE WEB

www.targetcommunities.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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