23 Oct 2015

Outside the Wire

From Country Life, 9:38 pm on 23 October 2015
Employment placement co-coordinator Sherie Lucke, instructor Tony Russell and assistant prison director Gill Brown at the Otago Corrections Facility farm.

Sherie Lucke, Tony Russell and Gill Brown at the Otago Corrections Facility farm Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Prisoners at the Otago Corrections Facility near Milton are being trained in agriculture skills.

The facility has a dairy farm where prisoners milk about 350 cows on the 123 hectare property that the facility has owned for eight years. The farm’s milk production is above the local average and each cow produced 400 kilograms of milk solids in the 2013/14 season.

Gill Brown, the assistant prison director of industries rehabilitation and learning, says the farm has two main goals. “First it’s a working farm and we put some of our profits back to Treasury and secondly it’s a training farm for our offenders who want to look at going and working in the farming industry”.

Principle Instructor Tony Russell manages the dairy farm with the help of three other instructors. “We teach them a broad range of skills and with what they learn here they can equally go and get a job on a sheep farm or a cropping farm. So apart from actually milking the cows, everything crosses over to other forms of farming”

The farm is outside the prison fence and prisoners need to meet strict criteria to work on it. “We have had some delays getting people outside the wire with some changes within the rules, but when we have people out on the farm it’s very beneficial for our offenders and it’s great to see people doing things that gives them job opportunities” Gill says.

The changes to the rules occurred after convicted murderer and sex offender Phillip Smith fled to Chile after being released from prison on a three day visit last November. Now there are eight prisoners working on the farm compared to up to seventeen previously and they must all where security bracelets. Tony says the changes have been challenging for the instructors. “There’s probably been more actual input from instructors who would normally be training doing the actual work, which is not the ideal because we’re here to train and we’ve had to increase the workload on individual prisoners too”.

Barry is one of the prisoners who works on the farm. “I hope to secure a job prior to release so that’s part of my release and rehabilitation going forward, that I know that I’ve got the security of a job that’s been hopefully assisted by my learning, my behaviour and my work ethic on the prison farm and the prison helping me get restarted in my life, starting from scratch.”