Rehabilitation through recycling

Publish Date : 03 Mar 2017

A transformative rehabilitation project at Paremoremo Auckland Prison is reducing waste sent to landfill and upskilling inmates for a life outside.

Bike repair workshop
Work in progress.

Around 10 prisoners work in the prison bike repair workshop, learning the fundamentals of bike restoration as well as workplace social skills and behaviours. 

The bikes are collected in Auckland Council’s inorganic service. They are sorted and stored at a warehouse in Glen Innes, which is operated by the Community Recycling Network. The material from this warehouse is picked up by 80 community groups, including the Paremoremo workshop.

David Grear, Principal Advisor for rehabilitation and learning, says the programme helps prepare prisoners for employment on their release.

Participants learn generic work skills – such as reporting on time, following instructions and working in an ordered manner – as well as workplace health and safety, engineering and mechanical skills.

An instructor says she has the same expectations of the participants as found in any workplace.

“There are the cheeky ones, and the rat-bags who need to learn to get on with it – there are also the quiet ones who keep their heads down and get on with it.”

Grear says the workshop enables the prisoners to build positive attitudes and relationships, particularly with those in authority. 

“Inside the wire prisoners don’t form relationships with staff. If they want something, they go to a window and request it and, with shift changes, that can be a different person each time. Here in the workshop it’s the same instructors, day after day, which is more like a work environment,” he says.

Paremoremo Auckland Prison watchtower
The repair workshop allows prisoners to work outside the wire of Paremoremo Auckland Prison.

Giving back to the community

In the last 18 months the workshop has repaired more than 60 bikes, donating the fixed bikes to charities.

Photos of finished jobs line the walls and the men take a real pride in being able to see the results of their work.

“It’s a privilege to contribute back, especially being able to help the refugees who come here with nothing,” says one of the participants.

“If it puts a smile on a kid’s face, we feel happy and that makes us work harder,” adds another.

Some projects have been particularly rewarding for the team, including the repair of a specialised bike for use by disabled children that was donated to The Wilson Home, and the delivery of 16 bikes to Hestia Rodney Women's Refuge for Christmas.

Other projects help those further afield.

“We had an antique bike that we fixed up and sent back to the Community Recycling Network to auction off to raise funds for people in Kaikoura.

"It made us feel really good that we could help those people who’d been affected by the earthquake – even from here.”

Quality control bikes
Repaired bikes ready to go to a new home.

Some of the project outcomes are their own idea. Recently 10 restored bikes were provided to PARS in Mt Eden, an organisation that assists prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families.

“When you get out you don’t have a lot of money and, well, you know how expensive Auckland is. This was our way of helping our brothers on the outside make good lives for themselves.”

Reshaping attitudes 

Margaret Miles, Paremoremo resident and Upper Harbour Local Board deputy chair, describes the bike repair workshop as a fantastic initiative.

“It is heartening to see that Auckland’s increased focus on reusing inorganic materials is delivering positive outcomes for both the environment and communities,” she says.

“By seeing waste as a resource, not rubbish, we are providing opportunities for learning and training, and making a real difference in people’s lives.”

The Department of Corrections is committed to reducing reoffending through ensuring that every prisoner leaving prison is capable of finding and maintain meaningful employment or education.

Research shows a strong link between employment and reduced reoffending with up to a 35 per cent drop in recidivism when offenders have a structured work and/or study environment to support them.

Grear says the men are excellent workers who are fully appreciative of the opportunity they have been provided with.

“Some of the guys will be the best employees a workplace has ever seen. In a slightly different programme we had one guy a few years ago that found employment as a trainee in a tyre shop on his release. Now he runs the place and has even had breakfast with the former Prime Minister.”

One prisoner acknowledges that time spent in the workshop has changed him.

“It’s very uplifting being here – and a real privilege to be outside the wire. I’ve learnt that I needed to change my mindset and my way of thinking. In jail it’s easy to shut yourself down, to cut yourself off from staff and other brothers. You don’t have friends inside, just brothers you associate with.

“We’re learning how to communicate with each other and that will help to improve our korero with others on the outside. These guys, they’re a bit like friends.”

Workshop wall
Poetry on the wall in the workshop kitchen.

Can you help?

The Department of Corrections is working hard to keep communities safe and reduce re-offending. However, the Department cannot do this on its own. The support of volunteers who can help give offenders a fresh start in life and make New Zealand a safer place for all, is invaluable.

If you would like to become involved in any of Corrections’ countless volunteer opportunities or if you have specific skills you can share, please get in touch with Ruth Patterson, Northern Region volunteer co-ordinator.

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