Helping prisoners to read and write at Rimutaka

Jenny Clark tutors at Rimutaka Prison. "They're just ordinary people, they always say hello".
Ross Giblin

Jenny Clark tutors at Rimutaka Prison. "They're just ordinary people, they always say hello".

Prison is not where Jenny Clark thought she would end up when she retired, but now her Tuesdays are spent behind bars at Rimutaka men's prison.

Instead of serving time, she serves up a dose of literacy to a keen inmate.

Like many of the men doing time at Rimutaka Prison, Clark's assigned prisoner arrived with very low literacy skills, a result of a turbulent childhood from constantly moving schools. 

"I thought, this young man has got it in his head, what a shame he's sitting in here," Clark said. 

It is estimated that 70 per cent of prisoners lack basic literacy skills, which is why the Howard League for Penal Reform began providing basic literacy programmes in prisons. 

Research showing the correlation between a drop of re-offending and education spurred the Howard League to implement their programme at Rimutaka prison. 

READ MORE: Howard league helps Rimutaka prisoners

Howard League volunteer co-ordinator John Boyd said there were 11 active tutors at Rimutaka prison, but there were still prisoners wanting tutors. 

"The Howard League is all about helping prisoners assimilate better and avoid re-offending," Boyd says.

Clark decided to volunteer at the prison to give others a chance at a good education. 

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"I had some time and I just hate the thought that some people end up in prison because they can't read properly. I think it's silly that when they come out they still can't read."

Despite the initial jitters at entering a prison, Clark has grown to love the mornings she spends with her tutee. 

"I was prepared for it being a bit grim as I'd seen T.V shows, and it is a bit like that, but the guards are just lovely and they make you feel very welcome," Clark said. 

And as for the prisoners, "They're just ordinary people, they always say hello".

New programmes such as Storybook Dads, an initiative for fathers to learn and read a story on DVD to send to their child, are now cropping up in prisons. 

These types of programmes are hugely beneficial to the 20,000 children in New Zealand with at least one parent in prison. 

"The prisoners get so much pride out of reading well," Clark says.

Clark intends to help her prisoner achieve NCEA credits, and hopes others will be inspired to take up the volunteer programme. 

"We're not doing it because we're social workers, we're doing it because we want them to have what we had, which is a good education." 

"There is something about giving back to the community as well."

For more information on volunteering at Rimutaka Prison, email

 - Stuff


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