A new child-friendly visitors area at a New Zealand prison, complete with books and toys, will open this weekend, designed to cut down reoffending.

Invercargill Prison bosses believe that strengthening relationships and parenting skills can play a vital part in a successful release into the community.

"A stable supportive family throughout the sentence is a key factor to prevent reoffending on release," says Verna McFelin, chief executive of Pillars, a charity that advocates for children of prisoners.

"Parental involvement has repeatedly been shown to have positive direct and indirect effects on a child's development, and despite the unique context of incarceration, father-child relations can continue to be beneficial to the child."


The development is part of Corrections' aim to reduce reoffending by 25 per cent by 2017.

There are an estimated 20,000 children in New Zealand with at least one parent in prison.

Children of prisoners are estimated to be six or seven times more likely to become prisoners than the children of non-prisoners, without intervention.

Ms McFelin said many families would not bring their children to visit in the past, because the experience was not so practical or pleasant for families in the large visitors areas.

"These areas have not been set up for families and are not conducive to children," she says. "As it becomes known that there are facilities for children, we hope that more families will bring their young ones to spend time with their fathers and we will be able to run the sessions more frequently."

Prison manager Stu Davie said the prisoners are looking forward to Sunday's opening and "sharing time with their families'.