Worries are mounting in the Central Hawke's Bay community of Otane about the establishment of a "Women's Correctional Facility" apparently without community consultation.
The facility, owned by Housing New Zealand and focusing on reintegration of inmates into the community, is to be based at Te Waireka, formerly used as a residential drug rehabilitation programme centre for youth run by Central Health and closed after Central Health was bought by Hastings area Māori authority Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga.
The establishment was confirmed today by Taiwhenua chief executive George Reedy, who said the programme, E Hine, will be a "game-changer."
"So often people fall through the cracks because the odds are completely stacked against them," he said. "Then it becomes harder for them to put everything back together."
Annemarie Kupa says she and her family were shocked to hear of the proposal, confirmed in job advertisements placed last week by the Taiwhenua o Heretaunga, which will run the programme in partnership with government department Corrections, with up to 12 women staying at Te Waireka, each "generally" up to six months.
Concerns led to a taiwhenua representative last night attending a meeting of small local group Progressive Otane, but Kupa says the community wants a wider public meeting.
A taiwhenua spokesperson told Hawke's Bay Today a public meeting will be held in Otane at 5pm next Monday.
The spokesperson said those on the project won't necessarily be inmates or ex-inmates, but would come from mainly from parolees or court referrals.
Parolees would be people from shorter sentences, and the taiwhenua will have the final say on who is accepted.
Kupa, unaware of that at the time she spoke with Hawke's Bay Today, said: "We are not saying we are against this. We have heard rumours. Now we've seen the advertisements. We want to know what's going on."
A flyer made available at last night's meeting says the taiwhenua is providing a programme to be called E Hine and "partnering to offer an innovative therapeutic, residential programme designed to help wāhine Māori live healthy fulfilling lives."
"The wāhine who come to stay at Te Waireka are highly-motivated to take advantage of the care, support and learning opportunities offered by the E Hine programme," it says in the flyer entitled "Te Waireka - Your Questions Answered."
"The goal is to encourage Otane residents to consider sharing their skills, interest, and hobbies with the wahine residents at Te Waireka," it says.
But Kupa says no one in the community appears to have been involved.
"The members of the community and our hapu that I have spoken to are not aware of any meeting with the community or official engagements having occurred," she said.
She said it appears the only "suitable component" is the availability of the premises, but that Otane itself "offers nothing to successfully support a reintegration facility."
Reedy said the place itself was peaceful and secluded.
"There's plenty of space for the therapeutic community to function without interruption. It will enable the residents to fully immerse themselves in the programme and get the most from it."
He said Otane would benefit with the creation of 10 new jobs and "further down the line" residents will be invited to share their skills and knowledge with the women at Te Waireka.