Corrections appeals to Canterbury employers to remove stigma around hiring convicts
When Hayden Doig went to prison for defrauding his employer, he thought no-one would want to hire him again.
"I used drugs for 14 years just because I suffered grief from the loss of my sister when I was 15 and didn't know how to deal with things like that."
The 29-year-old Christchurch man had "a good job" in a managerial position, but was last year jailed for fraud for five months.
Drugs "took over" his life, but he worked through his issues while in prison. He said he had been clean for nine months.
Two days after his release, Doig met Amanda Wallis from Corrections' southern employment team, who put him in touch with Construction Contracts managing director Hamish Wright.
Doig was now "in the top five" employees among the firm's more than 40 staff, Wright said.
"He's probably our most reliable member of staff. He enjoys coming to work every day … he's been a fantastic member of our staff."
But Doig's outcome is not the norm for many people who serve time in prison or have criminal convictions.
Ministry of Social Development figures from 2015 showed a quarter of people receiving a benefit had a criminal conviction and one in 10 had been to prison.
Doig and Wright were among a group of speakers at a Christchurch event hosted by Corrections Minister Louise Upston on Tuesday, which aimed to build relationships with potential employers, break down perceptions and encourage them to hire previous offenders.
More than 70 representatives from potential and current offender employers attended the event.
"Because we have put a significant emphasis into education, treatment and industry training on the inside, we want to then make sure that there are employers who are ready to take offenders when they leave," Upston said.
Despite the push to employ offenders, she said there was no plan to amend New Zealand's Clean Slate scheme.
Under the scheme, offenders who meet certain criteria are able to have their convictions concealed after seven years without offending. Offenders like Doig, who have been in prison, were not eligible for the scheme.
"I actually think what's more important here is, by giving former offenders a job and sending them on a different pathway, we actually get to remove that stigma," Upston said.
Wallis, who has helped many offenders into jobs, said prisoners relied on routine and being released "can be really scary", but having a job gave them stability, income and a chance to upskill.
"There is a stigma. It's like, here's this criminal and everyone just thinks they're a really bad person," she said.
"But there's a story behind their offending and if you actually listen and hear what their story is … it makes them real people."
For George Murray, that story was being brought up around gangs.
He saw that lifestyle "was not going to be a positive" in his teens and moved away, but he said a relationship break-up affected his "rational thinking".
"I started hating on the world," he said.
The result was "doing things out of character", including drink-driving, careless driving, burglary and willful damage.
Murray was sentenced to five months' home detention and community work, which he is still completing.
"I didn't think I'd be able to get a job while I was on a bracelet, [or that] my life could change that fast."
But it did. Murray was hired by Fresh Connection operations manager Marc Duff in February and was recently promoted to a role supervising about 15 staff.
Duff said Murray had become "a major asset" for the business.
"It was a real lesson to me [not to] go by your perceptions.
"He'd be one of the hardest, but also smartest, workers that we have."
Murray said "once you get your face out there", people, including offenders themselves, saw the stigma around hiring those with criminal convictions change.
"We're all people at the end of the day. Our background makes us different but we want to change."