Native Affairs - Being a Dad Inside Prison

By Renee Kahukura-Iosefa

Over 20,000 Kiwi kids have at least one parent serving time in New Zealand prisons.

Native Affairs was given exclusive access to a unique pilot programme being trialled inside the Northland Regional Prison in Ngāwhā, where fathers are being encouraged to be good dads.

One prisoner, a father of two young children says, "Having to interact with your children like that is teaching me a lot on what I could be doing on the outside to prevent you from coming in here in the first place."

Usually prisoners aren’t allowed to touch or interact with outsiders, in this programme it’s encouraged.

The Acting Prison Manager William Stewart says, "The whānau come in and the child could spend quality time with their father and interact with their father like a father would on the outside.  To create a bond and enhance that bond between a father and child.  It's ensuring that they choose their whānau over a life of crime."

The idea of such a programme came from a senior prison officer, who for over two decades, observed thousands of children visiting their fathers in prison.

Stewart says, "It's our way of exploring avenues through fiduciary offending.  If a father can choose his children over a life of crime then we have succeeded and this is one of those areas that we can put the child and father together and he understand he means a lot to the child."

Within two years of a prisoner being released over 70% of them will be back in prison.

This prison programme that has been trialled for one year is being driven by a team of prison officers who also want to see change.  They are hopeful the programme could help break the cycle of repeat offending and inter-generational incarceration.

An inmate, a father of a young boy says, "I have seen the change in my son since we have been able to do this.  It (the programme) will be awesome to see throughout New Zealand the bond that it brings a family united together at a visit."

“I see the joy in his eyes when he gets to see his dad run around, do things outside, play games just to see the joy and happiness in him."

The programme is being supported by Storytime NZ who provide resources including books and activities. There are currently 24 prisoners and almost 40 children involved. The cost to resource the family programme is $12,000 annually. 

Stewart says, "I've seen young guys grow into men inside these walls it is sad to see especially when you see their whānau growing up as well, as they are coming in. Hopefully with this type of programme the team has setup we would see less and less of those same faces coming through."