Union slams axing of prison auto course

LUCY TOWNEND AND KATHRYN KING
Last updated 09:22 16/07/2014

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The canning of a prison education programme will see offenders' reform prospects reduced and UCOL staff scrambling for jobs.

The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) says the Department of Corrections' decision to pull a UCOL-run automotive course at Whanganui Prison will hit workers in Whanganui and Palmerston North.

It would also prohibit prisoners' rehabilitation prospects and went against the Government's goal of reducing reoffending by 25 per cent within four years by offering offenders opportunities post prison, the union said.

However, Whanganui MP Chester Borrows said giving contracts to provide prison services was a competitive process and Corrections had the right to pick and choose between tertiary training organisations.

Corrections confirmed it canned the Whanganui Prison automotive course because it wasn't meeting expectations, had poor pass rates and the NCEA credits gained were not contributing to a "significant qualification".

But it was in the process of finding an alternative and still hosted a number of courses, including horticulture, timber processing and joinery, as well as literacy and numeracy.

The cull has forced UCOL to review its automotive programme, with uncertainty now surrounding four teaching jobs at the polytech's three campuses - in Palmerston North, Whanganui and Masterton.

TEU branch president Tina Smith said the decision to dump the course was "nonsensical".

"This current Government has said they want to have a 25 per cent reduction in the number of recidivist offenders," she said.

"The National Certificate in Automotive would have been the perfect opportunity to give prisoners a qualification and real employment prospects once they left prison."

The polytech was able to provide the funding, equipment and expertise for the course, which would benefit people with jobs now and offenders with opportunities after prison, Smith said.

"We had the backing of Chester Borrows, the local MP, who seemed very keen, and said it was sensible to keep programmes and keep people in employment and also provide quality programmes to prisoners which would provide quality outcomes long term."

Borrows said he had spoken to the TEU and the Minister of Corrections, and would be asking about Corrections' plans at a visit to Whanganui Prison with the law and order caucus committee tomorrow.

Despite being the Minister of Courts, the decision was made by Corrections and was operational, and he could not comment on the decision-making process.

As he understood it, Corrections was looking at a replacement automotive course, but hadn't decided on the timing or who would deliver that course.

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"As the local MP, I was very happy with local delivery, I know Corrections wants to continue with similar courses, but who they want to deliver them is up to them."

- Manawatu Standard

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