Getting jailbirds back on the straight and narrow is tough when their tutors lead them astray

Alf will be taking a hard look at this Whare Oranga Ake carry-on when he gets back to his parliamentary office in Wellington.

It sounds like a crock to him, after he checked out some basic information on the the Department of Corrections’ web-site and tried to reconcile it with an incident in Hawke’s Bay.

Under this programme, the department has two 16-bed Whare Oranga Ake reintegration units – at Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison and Spring Hill Corrections Facility – providing a kaupapa Maori environment for selected prisoners nearing the end of their sentence.

The programme and the day-to-day running of the Whare Oranga Ake are provided by skilled Maori community service providers, while security is provided by Prison Services.

At Whare Oranga Ake prisoners are supported to reconnect with their culture, identity and community.

Alf is especially interested in the bit about the skilled Maori community service providers.

Just what is or are their skill or skills?

And what exactly is their prowess when it comes to ensuring the prisoners do not re-offend?

These questions are raised after a bunch of prisoners on temporary release as part of the Whare Oranga Ake programmewere were caught illegally taking seafood from a marine reserve.

More important, it seems they were caught while participating in a rehabilitative programme designed to reconnect them with their culture and (presumably) put them on the straight and narrow.

In this case, however –

An investigation is under way after the Corrections Department confirmed the six Hawke’s Bay Prison inmates and two staff were apprehended by a conservation ranger and police after emerging from Te Angiangi Marine Reserve.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley said she had asked for an explanation from Corrections.

“For this kind of rehabilitation to be effective the processes must work as they are supposed to.”

The prisoners were apprehended along with two staff from a Hastings-based programme provider, Choices Kahungunu Health Services.

The group was met by the DOC ranger and police when they got out of the water. The seafood they had gathered was returned to the sea.

Dunno what Choices Kahungunu Health Services knows about gathering food.

But they need to brush up on their conservation law and/or their navigational skills.

First, the law –

Fishing is prohibited in marine reserves and anyone caught doing so can face up to three months in prison, fines of $10,000 and possible forfeiture of boats and fishing gear.

And second, the sloppy navigation –

Choices’ Whare Oranga Ake manager, Tania Luscombe, said the staff in charge of the prisoners had taken a wrong turn on the way to Pourerere Beach, which is about 10km north of the reserve.

“They didn’t realise where they were. They went to the wrong beach basically.”

A Corrections Department spokeswoman said the department has received a report from the provider but is still investigating.

The prisoners won’t face any action over the matter, she said.

Fair enough. It sounds like they were led astray on this occasion.

But the spokeswoman also said the department was very confident in Choices’ ability to provide the services.

Alf wouldn’t be so confident, because he reads that Choice staff say they had seen a sign informing them of the marine reserve and had taken the prisoners diving in an area they believed to be outside the reserve.

Yet Freedom Divers Hawke’s Bay committee member Kane Grundy said the reserve had a well-signposted “no-take, no-touch” policy. “You just look and take photos.”

Moreover, Ms Luscombe tells us the trip had been planned since November and the prisoners had spent months learning about team-building, gathering free food, tikanga related to kaimoana, water competency and the regulations.

It looks like lots of preparing was done, because she said before the trip the Agriculture and Fisheries Ministry had talked to the prisoners about what they could and could not collect.

The incident has prompted comment today from Pita Sharples, Associate Minister of Corrections.

He says the incident involving prisoners diving for food in a marine reserve is most unfortunate.

“As I understand it, this reintegration programme teaches prisoners a way to help support themselves and their families, and how to sustain the natural environment,” said Dr Sharples.

“These are valuable social and cultural skills which prisoners can contribute to their community after they are released.

“The programme providers have said that diving in the wrong place was an honest mistake, and Corrections is investigating.

“However this incident has certainly highlighted the importance of knowing all the laws affecting customary and recreational fisheries, including the boundaries of local marine reserves,” he said.

One thing that clearly is in question is a statement by Corrections’ general manager of rehabilitation and reintegration services, Alison Thom. She said the diving course helped released prisoners connect with positive activities in the community.

Not this time, obviously. Being rounded up by the cops as you emerge from an illegal fishing expedition can not be described as a positive experience.


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