Undergroundnetwork


Prison unit takes a bashing – is it out for the count? by underground

The news that a prisoner has been beaten within an inch of their life at the faith-based He Korowai Whakapono unit at Rimutaku Prison will further jeopardise the future of the facility and the Prison Fellowship not-for-profit organisation that runs it. The inmate is believed to have suffered brain damage in an attack with a pool cue and was taken to Wellington Hospital. This is probably the last thing the Prison Fellowship wanted to happen, as it is only months away from closure, due to a desperate lack of funds.

According to the National Director Kim Workman, Prison Fellowship has a hard time acquiring funds as, in his view, the public have a perception that the organisation is fully government funded, which it is not, and the government says public donations pick up the pieces, which they do not. The organisation relies heavily on donations from larger individual philanthropists and trust funds, and obtains limited funding from the Corrections Department. Workman told me the organisation struggles to get public support as helping prisoners and criminals is not high on peoples agendas and in the current climate of “throw away the key” mentality the organisations work is not very popular, as Prison Fellowship applies restorative justice and victim rehabilitation, which he assured me were remarkably effective. He also assured me that violence and crime was lower in the unit than the general prison population, so I would assume the news of the attack will come as a shock to him.

Although I disagree with Workman’s views on the positive effect of Christianity, and do not like the fact that Rimutaka’s He Korowai Whakapono unit is for those seeking to explore Christianity and there does not appear to be a secular alternative, I admire the work Prison Fellowship do for those at the bottom of the heap. The organisation has a record of helping not only those who have turned to crime and know no alternative, it also helps the victims of those crimes and assists the families of criminals, who are all too often forgotten. It would be shame for the organisation to close down, but if it does, I would hope to see the next government run and fund an alternative, although preferably without the Christian bias. I imagine the religious bent might alienate some people, victims and offenders. Unfortunately in the current political climate and with the popular views on crime being so hardline, I fear that restorative justice and offender rehabilitation will be take a back seat and the good work of organisations like Prison Fellowship will be undone.

The verdict is still out on the perfect way to handle offenders, victims and deal with crime, and restorative justice may still need to be perfected, but it offers greater hope than the ideas spouted by the mindless and the vengeful.

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