'Their dreams are no different from yours or mine'

By Te Ao with MOANA
Deirdre Nehua told Te Ao with Moana she meets the same people back in prison “so frequently it breaks my heart.”  Photo/File.

Former inmates are being set up to end up back in prison if they do not have comprehensive wrap-around support when they get out, a reintegration specialist says.  

Deirdre Nehua, who leads the Ngā Tupu Hou reintegration programme at Manukau Urban Māori Authority and has spent many years assisting former inmates face the challenges of life on release, told Te Ao with Moana that the model used here has been too narrowly focused.

“I think the problem with the corrections model is we work with the individual. We need to be looking at the man, looking at the whānau, looking at the environment that he’s going home to and making sure that all of the support systems are in place for the whānau as well, and that’s what really Whānau Ora is all about.”

Her work sometimes brings her into contact with three generations of inmates and Nehua says she meets the same people “so frequently it breaks my heart.”

“People come out and talk really proudly that they’re sharing a cell with their dad. I mean to me, that’s the ultimate failure.” 

She says New Zealand has been less involved in supporting former inmates reintegrate into society than some other countries.

"We have what they term a 'light-touch' service. If after a month they’re not making it, we don’t have the capacity to follow up and see that they do.  

“You’re not going to change a mind-set in four weeks. So I think we need to look a bit further than the get out of prison and we keep an eye on them for, maybe, a month to make sure they get into a house, get a job if they’re lucky, or get on a benefit. It’s not enough.”

Nehua points to the example of Canadia which she says helps former inmates overcome the stumbling block of finding accommodation on release. 

“I think the ideal would be the model that I saw when I was in Canada where in fact the government, the Canadian prison system, owned apartment blocks. So they would come out of the prison into apartment blocks and they wouldn’t be there in isolation," she says.  

"Everything that they needed to survive was supplied at the place that they lived. They could go there with their wives, their families, their children. They could get learnings on how to be good parents, bringing up your children, how to have good relationships, dealing with family violence, how to communicate and all of that.

“They stay there for six months and all of that was supported by the corrections system in Canada.”

Nehua says the men and women seeking to return to the community have quite simple wishes.

“Actually, their dreams are no different from yours or mine. They want a house, they want a job, they want a family, they want to be loved and safe and warm at night. Not really big things to ask."

Te Ao with Moana interviewed Deirdre Nehua before the Department of Corrections' launch of its new Hõkai Rangi strategy which aims to break the cycle of Māori reoffending and imprisonment.