My mum and dad always taught me not to throw stones. What they meant by that was it's easy to criticise other people, but that rolling your sleeves up and working together to solve problems is much more helpful and rewarding.

At Corrections, 9000 people go to work every day — in prisons and out in communities — to keep New Zealand safe and to help offenders change their lives.

They are not faceless bureaucrats. They are public servants in the true meaning of the words. They are also real people, from real families living in real towns and cities across New Zealand.

And they care deeply about their jobs. Much of the vital work they do goes unnoticed and unheralded. They don't turn up at work and expect applause.

Advertisement

But these are the people who work with murderers, sex offenders, gang members and other serious offenders — many with addiction issues — every single day to try to give some kind of hope for the future.

To me, our people are everyday heroes.

They work closely with other public servants, including police and Oranga Tamariki, out in the real world and not behind their desks, to keep New Zealanders, old and young, safe and to build a better future for us all.

The growing prison population is not something we celebrate. Offenders end up with us for a variety of reasons, and we don't have the option of turning any away.

And we are not in the business of punishing anyone. Loss of freedom and being away from family and friends is punishment enough.

Our job is to hold offenders securely so they don't pose a risk to the public. And while they are with us we do all we can to give them every opportunity to turn their lives around so they don't end up back inside the wire.

We have built strong relationships with organisations that support offenders in the areas of health, employment, accommodation, alcohol and drug treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration.

In the last financial year alone, prisoners have completed 10 million hours of industry, treatment, learning and constructive activities.

Our work has seen 1086 prisoners being placed into jobs, 1992 taking part in trades training and 7197 completing a rehabilitation programme. On top of this, 3894 qualifications have been achieved by prisoners while in prison, and we have around 125 Memoranda of Understanding with employers to get offenders into work.

We are also fortunate to have around 1700 registered volunteers who generously contribute thousands of hours and their skills to helping offenders.

We've seen incredible stories of hope.

Just this week a young man at Christchurch Men's Prison youth unit received The Duke of Edinburgh's Hillary Award at the Gold Level. It's the first time a prisoner has achieved this in New Zealand.

Completing the award taught this young man new skills — leadership, decision-making and self-motivation — skills which put him in a much better position to get into training, education or work once he's released.

One other thing my parents instilled in me was a sense of personal responsibility. And while we can give offenders every opportunity to make a difference in their lives through training, work experience and rehabilitation, we can't make them do it.

That doesn't mean we will stop trying. Sometimes it takes multiple attempts by our people to make a breakthrough. It is always worth the effort — for the offender, their children and wider families, and our communities.

• Ray Smith is chief executive of the Department of Corrections.