Prisoners refurbish homes for families

Last updated 05:00 03/04/2014

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Spring Hill prisoners are giving back to the community, one refurbished home at a time.

The partnership between the prison and Housing NZ has resulted in damaged HNZ homes being transformed into new dwellings.

Last month two homes were completely renovated at the prison and transported to Thames.

The pilot programme, which was rolled out at Spring Hill six years ago, has been replicated in Rolleston to feed the housing need in Canterbury.

Prisoners work under the guidance of trained tradesmen, and are tasked with building, wiring, plastering, cladding, painting and roofing.

The homes are then independently checked to ensure the structures meet building requirements.

Spring Hill acting principal instructor of construction industries Ken Collins said the programme had helped prisoners achieve a high level of work ethic, as well as trade qualifications, enabling them to head into the workforce after serving their time.

"It's not only going in and rebuilding these houses, it's also getting the prisoners in specialised trades like roofing, cladding, electrical work or plastering."

Collins said the programme had a "high success rate" with "low reoffending" by the prisoners who completed the programme.

"Anecdotally, I've come across half a dozen that have got jobs outside of the prison walls."

Since its inception in 2008, more than 400 prisoners had gone through the programme, and currently there were 45 inmates working on the course.

"Most of the qualifications we provide relate to what's going on outside the prison walls. With the shortage of tradespeople in New Zealand it was a perfect solution," Collins said.

The prison had a target to refit 25 homes annually and was on track, having completed eight to date.

One prisoner had spent 18 months on the course and had passed 38 of the 42 unit standards available on the programme.

The prisoner was working towards his four credits which he hoped to complete in the next two months.

Considered by his tutors as a "high achiever", the prisoner was now a leading hand on the project and was tasked with leading the team, ordering supplies, allocating jobs - work to alleviate stress for his "bosses".

"When I see a completed house you can't help but feel a sense of achievement not only for myself, but for our whole team. It's awesome work, it's like a second chance," the man said.

He said the fact the homes would house families in need was an "added bonus".

His whanau on the outside was impressed with the change they had seen in the prisoner.

"They are aware of how far I've come. It has been a big attitude change and my whanau are definitely happy," he said.

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Collins, who has worked in the unit for five years, said he "loves" his job and was always amazed by the changes he saw in the prisoners. "Within two to three weeks their [prisoners] whole demeanour changes. They want to be here and they see they have a future."

Housing NZ regional manager Darren Toy said the programme had been a "win-win" for both parties involved.

"Often three-bedroom houses are reconfigured to four-bedroom homes. Some of these have been relocated to Waikato. This is fantastic as it can be expensive to build or lease a four-bedroom property. This helps with the need in Waikato for more larger properties."

Once refurbished the homes were relocated where there was high demand, often in South Auckland, Waikato, Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty.

- Waikato Times

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