Securing work to escape a second prison: 'How do I be one of you?'

8:33 am on 13 October 2018

People who have been in prison say they are having to lie to employers to secure a job.

Sliding barred doors and lock

The rate of people sent back to prison within a year after release stands at 31.7 percent. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham Farrelly

Just under a third of people who leave prison are back behind bars within their first year of release.

The Department of Corrections said gaining employment can reduce reoffending and it urged employers to give former prisoners a chance.

A woman, who wanted to be known only as Mihi, said she enjoyed her night-shift cleaning job in Auckland.

She said her colleagues were great and her boss was good too, which made it difficult for her to keep lying to him.

She did not want to use her real name because she did not want her boss to find out she had spent time in jail.

"I am quite an honest person and I would rather he knows - because he's really good," she said.

"Since I have been working there in June I have been wanting to tell him but I am scared that he might let me go.

"I need this job or a job."

Mihi served six months in Arohata prison for a string of convictions, including assault, breaching protection orders and benefit fraud.

She was released in January and said she has been turned down by countless employers when she has been honest about her past.

"I ended up mentioning that I just got released from prison - that that was the reason why I did not have any referees - he told me to get out," she said.

Another recruitment agency told her that no one would employ her, so she was wasting their time.

"It is stressful, it is hard, especially if you have been in prison - I did not realise how hard it was. No one wants to help you."

Mihi said employment was keeping her on the straight and narrow and she could turn to drugs and alcohol if she lost her job.

Patricia Walsh had racked up sentences amounting to 20 years imprisonment and had been to jail five times.

She has been out of prison since 2009 and said she lied to get her first job too.

But it put her on a path to get her Bachelor of Social Work and she speaks publicly about how to improve the system.

"Once I got off the P, I felt like maybe I could get a job," she said.

"But I lied - I said I didn't have a criminal conviction - but hey I got myself a cleaning job and I ended up cleaning the wānanga.

"I said to one of the students, 'How do I be one of you?"

Second chance

Reintegration worker Joy Bullen said it should not be this way.

"For anyone that goes to prison they find that employment means they begin to be imprisoned all over again, they can't get employed because you are a risk," she said.

"So we don't say 'you've served your time, let's move on', we go 'no, you can't be employed because you are risk'."

Hawke's Bay orchardist Jerf van Beek employs former inmates and said those who struggle to find work when they are honest about their past should look to his industry.

"If they talk to the right person in the right industry they'll find that the truth is actually helpful.

"If it gets found out that actually is going to be negative during the continuation of the employment"

Mr van Beek, who also volunteers in prisons, told Morning Report most ex- inmates are fit, young men who like to work outdoors and they are a perfect fit for horticulture.

The Department of Corrections has programmes in place to get prisoners work ready and to help them secure jobs on the outside.

In September, it managed to source jobs for 158 offenders who had been in prison or on community based-sentences.

It's director of employment and reintegration, Stephen Cunningham, said employers were getting on board but not enough of them.

On Tuesday, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis held two hui in Palmerston North where he discussed reintegrating offenders into society.

He urged employers there to take a chance and give jobs to former offenders.

You can hear more about life after prison on Insight, after the 8am news on Sunday with Wallace Chapmam.