A new initiative in Spring Hill prison may well turn some light-fingered types into green-fingered gardeners.

Prisoners in the self-care units, which are four-bedroom bungalows outside the main cell blocks, are now encouraged to keep their own gardens, and use the produce to supplement their own meals.

The prison already had a horticulture training area where inmates could earn up to a level four NCEA qualifications, but now plants from the area are transplanted to small personal vege gardens.

Corrections officer Shane Potter said the objective was to have each household working as a team.


"We are going to test the prisoners to make healthy choices when developing a menu," he said.

"We have the prisoners gain experience in good budgeting and shopping skills, and teach them healthy cooking skills and a bit of self-sufficiency."

Internal grounds and horticulture instructor Hayden Veart said the prisoners really got engaged and often had competitions for who could grow the best plants.

"There are quite a few Maori prisoners here and we talk about them going back with a bit more mana when they go back to their iwi, teaching their kids how to plant. I've had a couple of prisoners who do everything by the Maori calendar by planting to lunar cycles. They get pretty good results," he said.

Participants in the horticulture course are expected to learn the European, Maori and Latin names of each plant.

A second initiative within the self-care units gives young dogs to specially selected inmates to train in a variety of household chores, from loading and unloading clothes dryers to pulling doors open and pushing them closed.

The initiative is run alongside the Mobility Assistance Dogs Trust and there are regularly eight dogs being trained at any given time.

One inmate chosen for the programme has been training the dogs for two years, with four dogs trained in that time.


"The dogs are usually six to eight months old when they come in, then they stay on until about 18 months. They need to be pretty onto it to continue on and become mobility dogs. It's definitely the best job in the prison," he said.

"There's no shortage of time to train the dogs, that's the main thing."

Senior corrections officer Dave Milne said the dogs could also be trained to fetch specific items, whether that be the television remote or a pair of socks. There is also a training yard in the prison for inmates to gain qualifications in painting, plumbing, build, construction and trades (BCAT), engineering, hospitality, horticulture and agriculture.

Prisoners who are deemed safe for external work are often taken from the trades area to help refurbish Housing New Zealand houses in external workshops.