The establishment of Wiri Men’s Prison in south Auckland placed more strain on the already tight operation of Pillars, a charity supporting the children of prisoners.
Pillars founder and chief executive Verna McFelin said there are about 8000 children of prisoners within 50km of the prison system in south Auckland. There are about 20,000 children of prisoners in New Zealand on any given day, she added.
“Our resources [in Auckland] are extremely stretched right now. In December [2014], we knew this was going to happen. Our board put together a strategic plan with a focus to expand our Auckland services,” she said.
The charity runs a family/whanau support service alongside a children’s mentoring programme. The mentoring programme aims to guide children so they will not follow in the footsteps of their parents.
“We are breaking the cycle of intergenerational imprisonment. What we do really works. It costs us about $6000 to provide mentoring for a year,” she said, whereas it would cost the government millions of dollars to build and run prisons if children fell off the rails.
The Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (Superu), in a study released this year, said “early interventions for children with a parent in prison are likely to have long-term benefits for the children and be cost effective for society”.
At the moment, the charity is looking at how it is going to raise funds to expand, because the need is so great. It recently opened its new hub in central Manukau.
“We plan to run our mentoring programme in a much larger way. Right now, we are mentoring 50 children. And in the next five years we are expecting 500. That’s only really touching the tip of the iceberg,” Ms McFelin added.
In terms of family/ whanau support, Ms McFelin said there are a variety of services tailored around helping families manage their affairs while a member is in prison.
With only one family/ whanau support worker, there is a waiting list for access to the service. “We have a family/ whanau worker who works for our families around their needs to do with the imprisonment of their family member, which includes things like their finances, budgeting, parenting issues they might have, navigating the justice system or around that,” she said.
Ms McFelin said children of prisoners are seven times more likely to offend than any other children.
In the immediate future, though, Ms McFelin said they would be happy to get a dishwasher. “People come in and we don’t have a dishwasher and there are a lot of dishes,” she said with a laugh. “We don’t care if it’s secondhand.”