Fruits of prisoners’ labour helping the community

17 October 2016

Fruits of prisoners’ labour helping the community

Community planting projects in the mid North area are benefitting from a NorthTec horticulture programme at Ngawha prison.

Inmates at the prison have been growing native plants as part of their National Certificate in Horticulture programme, which helps prepares them for life back in the community after completing their sentences.

The plants are added to the nursery inside the prison grounds, and donated to a range of community projects focused on riparian restoration. So far this year, 5520 seedlings have been planted, with more than 20,000 donated to the community over the last three years.

NorthTec runs the level 3 horticulture programme at the prison, as well as programmes in sustainable rural development, where inmates are taught about basic botany, propagation techniques, plant care and maintenance and filling customer orders from the nursery.

The prisoners also grow food crops, with any surplus harvest being donated to community food kitchens and women’s refuge organisations.

With the Ngawha region being a rare eco-environment, native plants grown there are especially useful to the Waitangi River catchment area. It is of special interest to the Northland Regional Council, which is developing a catchment plan for managing fresh water in the area around the Waitangi estuary.

Plants from the prison have been donated to the Waitangi Cycle Trail being created in the Waitangi Forest by Focus Paihia, beautifying and screening the new trail.

They have also been planted by children from Kerikeri Primary School at its restoration project at Wiroa Stream, and formed part of the Tangatapu wetland restoration project, near Rāwhiti.

Sandra Scowen, coordinator of the Tangatapu project, said her group of volunteers had spent the last four years planting out a four-hectare piece of land, restoring it from a disused horse paddock to its original wetland state.

The group used manuka plants on the flat, wetland areas, along with flaxes, cabbage trees and tussocky grasses, and kanuka on the hilly areas to prevent landslips. In total, around 20,000 plants had been used.

Sandra said she and her small volunteer group were extremely grateful for the donated plants, as these were large enough to withstand bad weather and pukeko attacks. A group of 10 inmates had also spent time carrying out weed control and assisting with planting.

Gerry Hindriksen, principal instructor of inmate programmes at the Northland Region Corrections Facility, said: “Over the past three years the NorthTec tutors have provided horticultural training for prisoners at Northland Region Corrections Facility. When the course first began, there was scepticism from the prisoners as to the value or importance of this type of training, as there was a perception that ‘all you do is grow plants or vegetables and anyone can do this’.

“Our tutors soon dispelled any misconceptions that this course was easy, of no value and it was going to be another fill-in course. The complexities of soil structure, soil mediums, the ‘whys’ as to how plants grow and the care required to get the varieties of plants to the point where they are distributed to community projects, made the prisoners realise this was going to entail a lot of hard but enjoyable work.”

Mr Hindriksen added: “As we come to the end of yet another course, it gives me pleasure seeing that the men have taken on board the intensive learning, that they have all passed with distinction and will be some of the best-trained students to leave this facility to gain employment in this chosen field. Our tutors have done incredible work with the students and we have community groups that have utilised the plants grown for environmental planting to the best use for all. It’s a win-win for all.”

The group graduated from the horticulture programme on Friday (14 October).

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