More than 100 Hawke's Bay young offenders will be given a "fresh start in life" with the chance to gain their driver's licences and improve their employment opportunities.
This week the New Zealand Transport Agency and the Howard League for Penal Reform signed an agreement which will contribute $100,000 from the Government's Community Road Safety Fund to the league's driving and literacy programme for young disadvantaged offenders in Hawke's Bay.
Howard League for Penal Reform CEO Mike Williams said he anticipated more than 100 Hawke's Bay young offenders would gain their driver's licence this year through the initiative.
Working with Hawke's Bay Probation service, the Howard League will identify drivers with literacy, and other life challenges to participate in programmes run from centres in Napier, Hastings and Flaxmere. Qualifying candidates will receive one on one classroom based learning sessions.
Tukituki MP and Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss welcomed the initiative, which he said would help offenders by making them more employable and ready to integrate back into the community.
"This is one of many community initiatives - including the Mayors' Taskforce for Jobs Driver Licence Pilot in Central Hawke's Bay - that are making a tangible difference for our young people," he said.
Labour Tukituki spokeswoman Anna Lorck said she was extremely pleased to see the programme could be repeated in Hawke's Bay as it was hugely beneficial.
"Getting a driver's licence can be the turning point for many young people, it's life changing," she said. "This is really making a real difference by setting young offenders on the right road to independence, to getting a job and success, not down the road to prison, where some would have been heading."
Mr Williams said many "disadvantaged youngsters" often ended up in the justice system because they did not have the means to get their driver's licence and often drove illegally - many also did not have the literacy skills needed to study the road code and pass the theory test.
Last year 109 young people referred to the programme from the Probation Service gained either a restricted or full driver's licence which enabled them to improve their lives, with many finding a job. Mr Williams said with the funding boost they would aim to improve on last year's numbers, and the money would go a long way to ensuring the programmes continued success.
"When a youngster with a background of disadvantage and repeated offending gets a learner's, restricted or full driver licence, because our programme has helped them to read and write, that's a passport out of the justice system and part of joining normal society," he said.
NZTA's acting general manager for access and use, Leigh Mitchell, said the collaborative parties shared common goals.
"While the Transport Agency's key areas of focus are road safety, transport efficiency and productivity, we strongly recognise the contribution driver licensing makes to social, employment and justice outcomes,"she said.