Prison initiative bearing fruit

SIENA YATES
Last updated 05:00 15/12/2012

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A Corrections initiative sees offenders doing time at Waikeria Prison given a chance to give back to the community they previously wronged.

Teams of community offenders are paying their dues by picking certified organic tangelos and mandarins in a Waikeria Prison orchard that is up and running again after being forgotten for years.

Central region offender employment manager Jim Watson is the man behind the fruity idea, kicking off the initiative just a few weeks ago.

Since then, he said, the teams had picked - and staff had delivered - roughly one tonne of fruit to schools in the Te Awamutu area.

"The orchard hasn't been used over the last five to eight years.

"It's just been lying dormant, so I just thought we could put it to better use," Mr Watson said.

The community work teams were "really into it", knowing the fruit was going back into the community instead of being shipped off, and that it was for the children.

"There's been a lot of stuff in the news about kids not getting enough to eat before or when they go to school, and I think we've delivered to every school in Te Awamutu and its surrounding communities."

With schools closed or closing for Christmas holidays this week, the fruit will go to charities, food banks, retirement homes and other local organisations, as well as to the women's refuge in Tauranga.

Mr Watson said that with a shortage of workers in the fruit industry, he hoped inmates could learn skills that could lead to finding employment by filling that gap, working to yield the five to 10 tonnes he was told the orchards held.

"It should be good once we get it all going properly in the new year. It's been going really well so far."

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- Waikato Times

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