Tucked down a long driveway in a busy Tauranga suburb, up to four newly released prisoners have the chance to start afresh at the city's first transitional home for former inmates.

Whare 4 Freedom opened yesterday and is the first of its kind in the region - offering former inmates up to six months' housing and support programmes.

Whare 4 Freedom kaitiaki (guardian) Shane Peeni, who says the best thing a former inmate can have when they're released is kindness. Photo / George Novak
Whare 4 Freedom kaitiaki (guardian) Shane Peeni, who says the best thing a former inmate can have when they're released is kindness. Photo / George Novak

Social services agency Te Tuinga Whānau, which already provides transitional housing and support for homeless families, created the programme in an attempt to help curb recidivism rates.

For Shane Peeni, who will oversee the men, house and programmes, it was an emotional day.

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"It's a great opportunity to be part of a programme that shares kindness to a man who maybe never had family or children or whatever his circumstances were.

"And to share it means a lot to me - that's the support I always wanted when I got out."

Peeni, a former inmate himself, said each man would be formally welcomed and "we try to find a connection - whether it's iwi or whanau".

"That brings our aroha on to the table. You are offering a piece of yourself. And when you touch a man's heart, you've got his full attention."

The idea was the brainchild of Te Tuinga Whānau's Piki Russell, who years ago dreamed of being able to offer better support to former inmates to help reduce reoffending rates. Through the agency's homelessness work - and the offer of the house from a local church - Russell's dream is becoming a reality.

Chairs are put away in the living room area in the new Whare 4 Freedom home. Photo / George Novak
Chairs are put away in the living room area in the new Whare 4 Freedom home. Photo / George Novak

Department of Corrections figures show 49 per cent of released inmates were convicted of a new offence and were returned to prison at least once during a 48-months follow-up period.

Te Tuinga Whānau chief executive Tommy Wilson said the incarceration rate for Māori men was distressing "and they are most likely to re-offend if they don't have a base where they can start over from".

"Ex-prisoners have been arriving on our doors at Te Tuinga Whānau with nowhere to go, no networks and no one to turn to. We also need to protect victims by doing all we can to help ex-inmates integrate back into the community," he said.

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Wilson said reconnecting former inmates could reduce the chances of reoffending by 50 per cent.

The men are chosen by Te Tuinga Whānau, in collaboration with the Department of Corrections, and they are involved in their release process from Waikeria Prison.

Ngāti Kahu rangatira (leader) Lou Te Keeti, who won $10.3m last year in Lotto, said Whare 4 Freedom was "a tremendous achievement".

"I listen every day to the politicians speak and hear the troubles we've got, but when it comes to the welfare of prisoners, it's always 'build more jails', 'throw more in'. There's got to be a better way.

One of the bedrooms inside the new Whare 4 Freedom home in Tauranga. Photo / George Novak
One of the bedrooms inside the new Whare 4 Freedom home in Tauranga. Photo / George Novak

"We are too hung up on that archaic (and punitive) system. If ever we need some creativity, it's now."

Western Bay of Plenty area commander Inspector Clifford Paxton said Whare 4 Freedom had the police's full support and he applauded the agency's efforts.

* The house will not accept any offender convicted of crimes against children. The Bay of Plenty Times has agreed not to reveal the location of the house for privacy reasons.