Family home built inside jail

By Peter de Graaf -
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The Constantino family of Dargaville outside Ngawha prison yesterday as their new house built by prisoners was lifted over the wire. Photo/Peter de Graaf.
The Constantino family of Dargaville outside Ngawha prison yesterday as their new house built by prisoners was lifted over the wire. Photo/Peter de Graaf.

In a New Zealand first, a house built inside jail entirely by prisoners has been lifted over the wire of Ngawha Prison for a needy Northland family.

A 100-tonne crane lifted the three-bedroom home first over a tall wire fence into a "sterile zone" yesterday, then over an even higher perimeter wall.

The three-way project between Corrections, Habitat for Humanity and NorthTec will give a deserving family a home they can afford while also giving prisoners qualifications and cutting their risk of reoffending once they are released.

The house will be trucked to a section on Dargaville's Mali St where the Constantino family are expected to put in 500 hours of work finishing the interior and landscaping, the start of their eight-year partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

One of the prisoners, who cannot be named, said he spent five months helping assemble the house from the floorboards up and as a result had gained level 2 in the National Certificate of Building, Construction and Allied Trades and a NorthTec Certificate in Elementary Construction.

"Being able to give to this family and the community is a good thing for us. A lot of the boys are pretty proud of themselves," he said.

"We've made some poor decisions but at the end of the day we're still people. We're trying to upskill ourselves and show we can actually do something. We can still contribute to the community."

Habitat for Humanity Northland executive officer Conrad La Pointe hoped the house was the start of an ongoing partnership with Northland Region Corrections Facility and NorthTec.

"We always believe it takes a community to build a house, but this build is particularly special because it involved people who don't usually get a chance to engage with the community outside."

The charity was planning three more houses in Northland next year, one of which he hoped could be built at Ngawha.

Eighteen families applied for the home with the successful family - John Constantino, Alma Futalan and children Shanida, 6, and Joshua, 4 - chosen for their overcrowded and unhealthy living conditions, long-term commitment to Dargaville, and responsible way they ran their household.

The family, originally from the Philippines, has lived in Northland for the past seven years. Ms Futalan is a technician at Dargaville Hospital.

"The house is awesome," she said. "We didn't realise it would be like this, it's beautiful."

Mr Constantino said he was pleased building the house would help the prisoners find work once they were released.

Corrections Northern Regional Commissioner Jeanette Burns said it was the third house built by prison inmates in New Zealand - but the first built entirely behind bars and lifted out intact.

The Constantino family was welcomed to the jail with a challenge and haka by prisoners. The house was blessed by prison chaplain Rev Wimutu Te Whiu.

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