Eleven men from a pilot forestry training programme for Northland prisoners now have full-time jobs or job offers upon release, Government ministers say.
The "release to work" programme was a collaboration between Te Uru Rākau (the Ministry of Forestry) and the Department of Corrections and involved 20 men from Ngāwhā Prison — officially Northland Region Corrections Facility — planting more than 326,000 trees as part of the One Billion Trees Programme.
Forestry Minister Shane Jones said 10 of the participants had also passed their Level 2 New Zealand Certificate in Forestry Industry Foundation Skills, while a further seven still in prison were continuing their studies towards the qualification.
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"This initiative has been a great opportunity to give these men a second chance, while helping progress the coalition Government's goal of planting one billion trees," Jones said.
"The participants were fully immersed in the planting process. They worked well as a team, their quality of work exceeded expectations, and the operation met or exceeded commercial standards.
"The contractor cannot speak highly enough about the trainees, who demonstrated an enthusiasm for the work, good physical fitness and a commitment to finding ongoing employment."
The training programme comprised eight weeks of classroom learning, delivered by NorthTec, and four weeks of practical field work under the guidance of a silviculture contractor.
"The scheme has delivered exactly what was hoped, by giving former prisoners real job skills and a positive future on their release.
"In addition, it's helped the local forestry industry to fill skill shortages and at the same time, plant more trees," Jones said.
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said the training programme expanded on the release to work programme already in place in New Zealand prisons, while supporting regional employment opportunities and the One Billion Trees Programme.
"Our Government is committed to reducing crime and reoffending, and giving people in our prisons every opportunity to get their lives on the right track. Programmes like this one, which help offenders into sustainable employment, are an important step in achieving those goals," Davis said.
The pilot is now being reviewed to determine where and how it can be rolled out again.
Jones, however, cautioned against getting too carried by the success of the pilot.
''It takes lots of effort to turn someone's life around. Getting and then holding a job is just the first step on the rehabilitation pathway.''