Success at prison youth unit

by Kent Caddick

Celebrating success and hope for young people was the theme of the visit by Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry panel members to the Youth Unit based at Christchurch Men’s Prison near Rolleston.

The Youth Unit aims to provide a supportive youth focussed environment designed to set the young offenders up to lead a crime-free life when they leave prison.

Inquiry Panel members, Dean Rangihuna and Josiah Tualamali’i, visited young people at the facility to talk with them about their successes as part of the inquiry panel’s ongoing meetings with community and other groups across Aotearoa. 

Recently several of the young people in the unit received their Duke of Edinburgh awards and earlier this year completed a marathon inside the prison fence. Josiah Tualamali’i, the youth voice on the inquiry panel, said he was moved by these achievements and wanted to find out more about the successes of the young men at the unit.

“My first thought was what’s going on for these young people. They have found hope and achieved some amazing accomplishments. Completing a marathon is no simple task, and these young men have shown incredible determination and character in doing this,” Mr Tualamali’i said.

“We know that over 90% of prisoners have mental health or addiction issues. Our inquiry is looking at what can help transform the really difficult situation that some young people find themselves in across Aotearoa and all of our communities with their mental health and addictions and support services around them.

“Dean and I have visited to hear directly from the young men about what has worked for them, the challenges they have confronted and the ideas they have that will help them see a better future.”

Dean Rangihuna, the consumer voice on the inquiry panel, said the visit was uplifting. 

“These amazing whanau have looked adversity in the face, having sometimes experienced chaotic personal situations including mental health and addiction challenges and have done the hard yards to achieve truly great things.

Running a marathon and gaining Duke of Edinburgh awards, designing and maintaining their own veggie gardens and their artistic ability shown in their murals are huge achievements,” Mr Rangihuna said.

“I am familiar with the backgrounds many of these young people have come from, so to see them taking up these opportunities makes me immensely proud.”

The couple also spent some time with Department of Corrections’ staff working in the unit.

“We are grateful for Corrections facilitating the visit and sharing their insights,” Mr Rangihuna said.

“Hearing about their recently launched Mental Health Strategy will help inform the panel in its work. As part of our brief, we are asking people what is working, what isn’t and what could be done better so the ideas and insights will be invaluable.”