Leadership, community partners and dedicated staff are vital to the successful delivery of Ara Poutama Aotearoa Department of Corrections’ new strategy for women, says Hon Kelvin Davis, Minister of Corrections.
“A strategy alone will not be enough to create lasting change in the corrections system, or to support women to reshape their lives,” he says in the foreword to Wāhine – E rere ana ki te pae hou: Women’s Strategy 2021–2025.
“Succeeding in this mahi will require new ways of working and cooperation. I am confident there is the will and ability to do what is right and to address the longstanding issue of how women are treated by our justice system.”
So how does this “refreshed” strategy differ to the 2017–2021 strategy for women? Karen Gillies, Workstream Co-Lead – Women’s Prison Network Improvement Programme, Ara Poutama Aotearoa, says there are two key differences.
Firstly, te ao Māori (Māori world view) and Māori culture (including toi Māori such as waiata, kapa haka, whakairo, raranga and kowhaiwhai) are overarching. “For women, access to Māori culture, understanding their whakapapa and connecting with whānau, often through toi Māori, are incredibly important.”
The need for a skilled workforce
And secondly, the strategy acknowledges the need for a skilled workforce able to respond to the unique needs of the women.
“Staff are vital in the healing and rehabilitation process,” Karen says. “Our workforce wants to do a good job and they need to be supported to do so.”
Within an oranga (wellbeing) focused framework, the strategy outlines four focus areas with bullet-point descriptions of what each focus area means for the women and for the workforce. The four areas are:
- Tautoko – Do what’s right for me.
- Holistic Approaches – See the whole of me.
- Reclaim and Restore – Acknowledge my journey.
- Whānau and Whanaungatanga – Take time to get to know me.
Threaded through each focus area are words like mana, community, whānau and connected.
Community engagement vital to successful reintegration
“Community engagement is vital to successful reintegration,” Karen says. “Women in prison are still members of the community and will return to the community one day. But often they don’t feel like they belong any more. To reintegrate successfully, the women need to feel like they are a part of the community.”
She cites the Home Ground programme, delivering creativity (e.g. music, dance, theatre, creative writing, painting) to address issues faced by women in the justice system and their whānau.
“Programmes like Home Ground use the arts and creativity as a way for women to feel supported, connected to their community and to process what they are dealing with.”
Karen says another excellent example of a community partnership is He Kete Oranga o te Mana Wahine (a women’s basket of wellness), a residential drug and alcohol centre for women near Christchurch. It was set up in 2019, and is a partnership between Corrections, Pathway Trust and Odyssey House.
Its programme incorporates the key themes of connecting with whānau, focusing on oranga and building relationships that promote good health. It uses Te Whare Tapa Whā model and includes a strong tikanga Māori component.
Anaru Baynes, the Reintegration Manager at Pathway Trust, says the arts are a key anchor for wellness for anyone transitioning into the community from prison, or with a background of substance misuse and addiction.
“The women at the centre are on a healing journey, and the arts are a powerful medium for them to explore and make sense of the challenges of the past and their hopes and dreams for the future.”
The 2017–2021 women’s strategy was launched at a time when the number of women in prison was at an all-time high (739 in mid 2017). Although the number of women in prison has decreased (470 in mid 2021), wāhine Māori are still over-represented (66% of the female prison population).
Developed in consultation with a reference group comprising mainly wāhine Māori
With the Department’s Hōkai Rangi Strategy as its foundation, Wāhine – E rere ana ki te pae hou: Women’s Strategy 2021–2025 was developed in consultation with a reference group comprising mainly wāhine Māori. As well as expertise in tikanga Māori, members brought diverse skills and knowledge, and were able to advise from their everyday experience as providers, people with lived experience, whānau members, policy writers and strategists.
“Rather than the Crown deciding the solutions, we listened to the voices of those with lived experience, and continue listening to them as we implement the strategy,” Karen says.
A key element in its implementation is Te Mana Wāhine Pathway pilot programme, designed to build better outcomes for women in Christchurch Women’s Prison and those serving community sentences.
Work on the four-year programme is already under way and will eventually be rolled out at Arohata Women’s Prison in Wellington and Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility, in collaboration with local voices.
“This is the first time a government has made a significant investment in a programme for women and it represents a journey of change for Christchurch Women’s Prison,” Karen says.
Speaking at the prison following the announcement of the $10.1 million investment over four years in the May 2021 Budget, Hon Kelvin Davis told the women that practising their culture in prison was a right, not a privilege, and that reconnecting with one's Māori roots was reaping rewards in a lower rate of recidivism.