Young Deaf community-based offender turns life around
A young Deaf criminal offender has turned his life around with the help of a probation officer fluent in sign language.
The offender, who cannot be named for safety reasons, had been serving a community-based sentence for low-risk offending.
Kirsty Herbert, a probation officer at the Panmure Community Corrections office, helped rehabilitate the offender so he could integrate into society and gain employment.
Herbert has a degree in Deaf studies and criminology and is able to speak New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL).
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Deaf is written with a capital letter when it refers to Deaf people who use NZSL to communicate. Failure to do so can be considered offensive.
As Herbert built up trust with the offender he became more confident with his sign language.
"He started telling me about the issues he'd been having with associates and friends," she said.
The offender was born Deaf and used New Zealand Sign Language as his main form of communication, whereas the rest of his family were all speaking and hearing.
"That's been a struggle in his upbringing, he wasn't able to express that he was getting himself into trouble and was hanging out with the wrong people," Herbert said.
"He had no idea what was going on around him.
"He got involved with bad people who led him down the wrong path but he had no one to talk to at home," she said.
In serving his probation sentence, the offender was linked up with a support worker from Ministry of Social Development-funded programme Geneva Elevator.
Geneva Elevator's Deaf very high needs specialist Jarrod Burrell had watched the offender open up over the past nine months.
Herbert and Burrell helped the offender into employment.
"He wanted to do something with his hands, so we started him on a construction site safety certificate," Herbert said.
The offender found work at a construction company where he works with aluminum and the workers are also Deaf.
The offender said, via Herbert translating, that before he started work he was ignorant and and looked for trouble.
But he realised the benefits that came with having an income.
"I realised I can have a better life and stay out of trouble."
The offender said working alongside Deaf people had improved his confidence and he could communicate with ease.
"Working with Deaf people is really good, you can have good communication and banter whereas with hearing people there's a disconnect," he said.
There are two Deaf community-based offenders being managed by Whangarei Community Corrections, another one at Panmure, one at the Women's Corrections Facility in south Auckland and one at Mt Eden Corrections.
Panmure Community Corrections had 20 staff do a New Zealand Sign Language class to raise awareness of Deaf culture.