Contractors wary of hiring ex-prisoners for rebuild

Some contractors working on Christchurch's earthquake rebuild say they would not "put their neck on the line" and employ former prisoners.

The comments come as the first group of prisoners to undertake 17-week trades training courses at Christchurch Men's Prison graduate.

One painting contractor told The Press he supported the idea of trying to get prisoners into work, but no-one he knew would be willing to take the risk of hiring a former prisoner.

"We like the idea of [the Department of Corrections] trying to do it, but no-one would put their neck on the line."

Workers were worried that their company could lose work if something went wrong on a job that involved a former prisoner, and many homeowners were also likely to be concerned about having former prisoners in their homes, he said.

"If something goes wrong, we will be sacked,'' he said. ''We'd need a written guarantee from Fletchers [and] the homeowner ... that we wouldn't lose work."

Another tradesman said he was "absolutely insulted" about the idea that prisoners could get into specialised trades so easily.

"If these crims want to learn the trade, do an apprenticeship like the rest of us,'' he said.

''Four years' experience and trade certified exams and now trade registration is the minimum requirement to be a competent trady – not a 17-week course."

Three new trades training workshops opened at Christchurch Men's Prison in November, giving prisoners the chance to gain qualifications in automotive engineering, painting and plumbing.

The courses were run in conjunction with the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology.

Nine of the 10 people who started the first 17-week plumbing course at the prison graduated on Friday.

Nine of the 13 automotive course trainees also graduated on Friday.

Corrections Department rehabilitation and reintegration general manager Alison Thom said the skills many prisoners learnt could directly and indirectly be used towards rebuilding Canterbury after the region's earthquakes.

It was estimated that 30,000 additional tradespeople would be needed to support Christchurch's rebuild programme.

"There is a double benefit with training in making prisoners more employable, and therefore less likely to reoffend, as well as contributing to the rebuilding of Christchurch," she said.

Corrections was focused on helping prisoners tackle the underlying causes of their offending through rehabilitation programmes and learning skills, she said.

The Press