13 Aug 2019

Career expo gives prisoners options for life on the outside

6:04 pm on 13 August 2019

Women prisoners say they feel discriminated against by employers and that finding a job once they're on the outside is extremely difficult.

Wiri Prison - Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

But they say a careers expo for those soon-to-be released from prison is giving them hope that they can turn their lives around.

At the Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility in Wiri, banners are set up and flyers are being handed out.

Employers from the construction and heavy vehicle industries to textiles and fabrics are touting their wares.

Prisoners say they never thought steady employment was available for them.

"There's not [many] opportunities out there for prisoners and ex-prisoners, a lot of people look at you differently and you get treated differently," said one woman.

"But it's good that [the career expo] is here and it's actually giving us another chance and a whole other opportunity for us to continue living our lives as normal people."

RNZ cannot identify the women because of privacy reasons but every inmate we spoke to talked about feeling like the odds were stacked against them.

"There's a lot of discrimination...where prisoners are concerned," said one woman.

"With my charges, I am judged, we're not the first option for a job opportunity," said another.

"We do come across barriers but the more you get knocked down you just got to keep getting back up and trying."

The careers expo is a part of Corrections 'This Way for Work' programme - which aims to stop prisoners from re-offending and get them into stable jobs.

Since it started in November of 2016, more than 2700 offenders have been employed, with 68 percent staying in the job for more than six months.

For the first time, a speed-recruiting session is being introduced where employers can hold quick meet and greets with the prisoners.

Karl Bethell from Corrections is in charge of getting prisoners into work.

He initially thought it would be hard for employers to get on board.

"In actual fact if you're open and honest and you build that rapport, I've been surprised by how many employers are keen to give people a second go," he said.

One of the employers at the expo, Bridgeman Concrete, said it only started hiring ex-convicts in the last two years.

General manager Tim Walters said they had hired ten ex-prisoners in that time and still currently employ nine.

"We see it [like] they've actually paid their debt to society, what's the worst they can do to us? They can't pinch concrete off us," he said.

"The first two, really proved themselves, turning up every day, hard working, great attitude so that really paved it for the rest of the guys to come on board."

And for Karl Bethell, he is looking forward to a day when he is not needed anymore.

"Well I guess it's one of those things if I do my job really well, I make myself unemployed and wouldn't that be a great thing," he said.

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