Speech: Northern Regional Corrections Facility Prisoner Graduation

Graduation ceremony,
Northland Region Corrections Facility,


Punishment and rehabilitation

Thank you for inviting me here today for this Howard League Graduation.
It is a great honour to be presenting the certificate for completion of the literacy course and for the relaunch of the programme here at Ngawha.

Congratulations to the Howard League

Your work is greatly valued.
As your president Tony Gibbs has stated:
“The Howard League’s work is vital to ensure that the penal system isn’t merely an expensive human scrap-heap New Zealanders should be ashamed of.”
The Howard League has a proud history in New Zealand and has been a strong voice campaigning on rehabilitation, appropriate punishment and alternatives to prison.
The New Zealand branch was founded in 1924 by an enterprising English born woman Blance Baughan who worked in the London slums before coming to New Zealand.
She wrote a book in the 1930s People in prison which was controversial at the time. She was especially critical of the treatment of prisoners with psychiatric disorders.


This is, however, a day of celebration, not for looking back.
No doubt one of the motivating factors for the Howard League is to look forward.
Prisons should be places where there is both punishment and rehabilitation - a second chance.
Prisons must be more than just cells, bars and locked gates and doors.
They must be places where hope is given an opportunity to grow.

Ngawha works to achieve this with its emphasis on inmates acquiring skills with a range of programmes.
In collaboration with Habitat for Humanity Ngawha prisoners working in construction have built three homes for Northland families in need.
Ngawha prisoners’ artwork is displayed at numerous art exhibitions and sold in aid of charitable organisations.
Ngawha has drama, music, sport and education programmes.
There is also a carving programme and carvings from Ngawha prison can be found all over the North.
It was encouraging to learn this week how prisoners from Ngawha gifted a large carving for the redevelopment of Bay of Islands Hospital at Kawakawa.
This carving now has pride of place at the hospital.
The carver gave the work two meanings.
The first – Mai Te Ao Tawhito ki Te Ao Hou – means ‘From the Old World to the New.’
The second name was Phoenix.
This is the ancient bird symbolising renewal, rebirth and the beginning of a new life.


The Phoenix could also be used as a symbol to the Howard League literacy programme at Ngawha.
This programme is critically important.
Too many prisoners in New Zealand – 71 percent – have difficulty reading and writing.
The Howard League provides the chance for these prisoners to acquire all important skills.
The Howard League literacy programme is now six years old and has taught between 500 and 700 people all over New Zealand.
The changes to a person’s self-esteem when he or she finds they are able to read competently can be remarkable.
Completion of the course shows the reader is competent enough to be able to read the road code.
When this is attained the opportunity of getting a driver’s licence becomes a distinct possibility – a visa so to speak enhancing the prospects of getting a job.
All prisoners struggling with literacy should be encouraged to take up this programme.


This graduation ceremony today hopefully marks a stage of the journey to better times.
This is a day to celebrate.
It is worth remembering the words of Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years locked up in prison.
“As I walked out the door toward freedom, I knew that if I did not leave all the anger, hatred and bitterness behind, that I would still be in prison.”
Hopefully more and more prisoners will leave prison that way, buoyed up and feeling strong having been helped by this wonderful literacy programme the Howard League makes possible.
Congratulations and thank you again for inviting me here today.