Computers to be supplied to inmates enrolled on Open Polytechnic courses.

Prisoners at New Zealand's newest jail will get tablet computers, as well as in-cell desktop screens, if they enrol in Open Polytechnic courses.

Rachael Cole, assistant director for reducing reoffending at the new 960-bed Kohuora men's prison which opened at Wiri yesterday, said that in the prison's two-bed cells only one desktop screen was provided because inmates would also have the use of personal tablets.

"Tablets will be issued to everyone who enrols on the Open Polytechnic's Get Ahead Skills course," she said.

Open Polytechnic chief executive Dr Caroline Seelig said last week that her tutors would give the prisoners "education opportunities for second chance learners who left school without gaining any NZQA-recognised qualifications".

Advertisement

That is expected to mean most prisoners. Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga said at the prison opening that two-thirds of New Zealand prisoners were functionally illiterate.

Serco, the British company that will run Kohuora, said earlier this week that its Wiri prisoners would have only "fixed television screens that double as computers".

A planned Herald photo at Mt Eden Prison, where the new educational programme with tablets was piloted with 10 prisoners, was cancelled on Monday on the basis that the Wiri prisoners would not have tablets. This has turned out to be incorrect.

Get Ahead Skills is described on the Open Polytechnic website as "a foundation-level self-development and employment skills suite of courseware" with "a specific aim of improving literacy and numeracy skills for adult learners".

"It is designed to better prepare learners for the workforce and increase their self-esteem and communication skills," the website says.

Mr Lotu-Iiga said: "Do we really want to lock up our prisoners and throw away the key? Some people say we should. I do not.

"Or do we want to be a nation that does not turn its back when there is a possibility one criminal can be saved, educated, upskilled, released and employed? For every prisoner we save, we save a family, a community, and in my view, advance a country."

Serco staff said more than 200 of the 960 prisoners would be working or training at any one time: 48 learning engineering, welding, joinery and carpentry; 40 each working for Envirowaste and PlaceMakers; 21 building cabins for Cabin to Go; 40 in the prison kitchen, and 10 each in the laundry, canteen, horticulture and recycling.

Advertisement

Others will be in education, health education and other programmes that have mostly been adopted from the Corrections Department.

Ms Cole said Te Wananga o Aotearoa's Open Wananga would provide Maori cultural courses at Wiri and she was talking to the Onehunga-based Martin Hautus Institute about providing Pasifika courses.

Based on Auckland court data, about 40 per cent of Wiri prisoners are expected to be Maori and 30 per cent Pasifika.

Ms Cole said 45 per cent of the prison's staff were Pasifika and 25 per cent Maori.

Wiri's numbers

Expected prisoners

Maori 40%

Pasifika 30%

European 25%

Asian/other 5%

Staff
Pasifika 45%

Maori 25%

European/Asian/other 30%

Auckland South Corrections Facility Director Mike Inglis. Photo / Dean Purcell
Auckland South Corrections Facility Director Mike Inglis. Photo / Dean Purcell

Prison boss learning Te Reo

The Scotsman recruited to run Serco's new prison at Wiri is learning Te Reo Maori.

Mike Inglis, 45, began his speech at the prison's opening yesterday with a long greeting in te reo - then apologised for his broad Scottish accent.

He said he and his wife Margaret and children Ethan, 13, and Mischa, 8, were enjoying New Zealand and planned to stay here permanently.

"I took this job for two reasons," he said. "It was an opportunity to bring the family to New Zealand, and professionally I was really sold on the vision to reduce reoffending and to make a real difference to a country with a high recidivism rate."

Mr Inglis has a master's degree in criminology from Leicester University and spent 20 years in the Scottish Prison Service before joining Serco last year. He was reported to be the youngest prison governor in Scottish history when he took charge of Aberdeen jail at age 36, and was most recently governor of the 700-bed prison at Perth, just north of Edinburgh.

When he left Perth, he told the Dundee Evening Telegraph that part of his job was helping prisoners with their education.

"I've come across prisoners who have reached their forties and not been awarded a certificate for anything," he told the paper.

He was part of an Early Years Initiative which worked with prisoners' children, a service he is replicating at Wiri with a dedicated children and families team.

He also coached soccer in Perth and still plays here for the over-35s at Fencibles United in Pakuranga.