4 Oct 2017

'It's ok to be learning, no matter what age'

8:05 pm on 4 October 2017

Prisoners graduating from a literacy programme say it has lifted their aspirations, and made a real practical difference.

Rimutaka Prison Education Ceremony

Inmates at the Rimutaka Prison education ceremony Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Corrections figures show the majority of prisoners lack the literacy and numeracy skills to manage in society.

Ray, one of the Rimutaka Prison graduates, completed a course in Classical Studies and said it showed him that for centuries societies have all been seeking answers to the same questions.

He said the involvement of the Howard League made a real practical difference.

"Giving us a room and more importantly, a table, a flat surface on which to work, rather than on our knee in the cell.

"They have also inspired us and lifted our aspirations, encouraging us [saying] 'it's ok to be learning, no matter what age' and that we can always do better."

Rimutaka Prison Education Ceremony

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Another graduate, Jack, studied with Te Kura, the Correspondence School, doing English, Maths and tertiary study skills and was currently working towards NCEA level 3.

He hoped to do a degree when he left Rimutaka and said most of the prisoners in his unit have been supportive of those giving study a go.

"You have a group to study in and if you're not quite up to scratch with everybody else, they will bring you up to scratch.

"It also gives you skills to say if you need help on the outside you can get a group of friends who study together and actually make your own group."

Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias at Rimutaka Prison Education Ceremony

Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias presented certificates to the men, and told them reading was an essential skill.

Those without it would end up living on the fringes of society, she said.

"You [would have to] rely on others to read and write on your behalf, even about matters that are private.

"You can't fill in forms that our society requires for everything."

Corrections chief executive Ray Smith congratulated the graduates on their bravery in taking the opportunity to educate themselves.

He said they would be able to share their new skills with their families and they were role models for other prisoners.

"So I think you're been brave in stepping forward and doing what you've done and a whole lot of other people will do that because we're celebrating this here today."

As well as the Howard League and Correspondence School programmes, the department has also recently joined with the Tertiary Education Commission to work together on improving prisoners' education.