A field day at Waikeria Prison's dairy farms has been deemed a success by organisers and support agencies.
Waikeria Prison manager industries Stu Morgan says corrections staff worked with Primary ITO and Dairy NZ to showcase the systems being utilised by the working dairy farms and the industry training opportunities being given to prisoners, to visiting dairy farmers.
He says the prison farm is the largest industry at Waikeria Prison and, with the help of Primary ITO, provides industry training opportunities and a chance for prisoners to gain industry standard qualifications.
"We invited dairy farmers to the prison so we could demystify what happens in the prison and show that we can help fill a market need for trained and qualified dairy workers," he said.
"Our hope is that some of the farmers would think about providing employment for some of our men, either through the Release to Work programme for serving prisoners or for released prisoners seeking employment."
Stu said the visiting farmers showed they were engaged and positive about the opportunities.
"We handed out a good number of contact cards for the Release to Work programme and are hopeful some will consider this option."
"Overall we were pleased with the response form the farmers," he said.
Guest speaker was Ben Purua – a former prisoner for manslaughter.
He said working on the prison farm was the catalyst that allowed him to turn his life as a gangster around.
Stu said the men engaged in the Outside the Wire (OTW) work and training on the dairy farms had to meet strict conditions.
"Usually they are recommended by their case manager if they show the right attributes and attitudes," he said.
"They have to pass an advisory panel process, where each application is assessed before anyone is approved."
The aim is for the men to undertake Level 2 Agricultural General Skills through Primary ITO, with a focus on the dairy farming thread.
A hindrance to the training is the uncertain time the men have to complete the course.
However, the dairy team takes the challenges on board and has worked with Primary ITO to tailor the best outcomes possible.
Stu says by the time men are considered suitable for OTW and unit standards study, they might be nearing the end of their sentences.
This problem is often compounded by the fact that many prisoners have other programmes they have to undertake and complete first as part of their sentence conditions.
"The Level 2 programme requires eight to 12 months to complete, so for some they achieve some of the standards, but at least they have some qualifications on release."
"For many of the men it is the first time they have ever had a job, or ever studied for a qualification."
Primary ITO national manager primary services Simon Croom was also a speaker at the event.
He said his organisation was pleased to partner with Waikeria Prison to offer a training and qualifications network for prisoners.
His team's challenge was to tailor the training to meet the unusual needs of the clients, while ensuring that training met the standards set by the industry.
Simon said Primary ITO was involved with all prisons in New Zealand, but only Waikeria and Otago offered dairy industry training.
Also helping host the field day were Corrections principal farm instructors Peter Watson and David Lea, as well as farm instructor Brent Hill.
The passion Peter and David had for both the Waikeria dairy farming operations and the training provided for prisoners was evident throughout the day.
Stu said the principal instructors had been identified for the positions because of their agricultural skills and desire to work in the rehabilitation and reintegration space.
"Their passion for the work at the prison is good for the outcome of the programme," he said.
Part of the success is also down to the leadership role being taken by Waikeria Prison Farm.
Winners of a 2019 Balance Farm Environment Award, Stu said there is a conscious effort to lead the way in environmentally sustainable dairy farming practices.
Waikeria Prison Dairy Farm re-evaluated its position a few years ago and adopted a low- stock-rate, low-input system – as well as fencing off and looking after the health of all its waterways.
They hope the passion for farming and qualifications on offer will see more prisoners joining the industry on release and turning their lives around, in the manner of Ben.
Stu said in prison, the inmates are isolated from their normal groups and peers and often show potential – but those distractions that were their downfall in the first instance often return quickly on release and that potential is not realised.
"Our job is to inspire change and give them hope for something better."