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Breaking the cycle

More than 1000 offenders and ex-prisoners have been given a second chance through a driving programme here but new funding is needed if it is to continue.

The New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform driving programme was launched here three years ago after the pilot programmes were set up nationwide at 17 locations through $7.5 million of funding from the Provincial Growth Fund.

NZ Howard League for Penal Reform operations manager Jenny Michie says the programme is excellent value for money and costs about the same as keeping one person in prison for a year.

“We only have to keep one person out of jail for a year and the Crown has its money back.”

The programme can cost up to $120,000 over a year and covers the costs of getting the correct ID needed for a licence, practice with a qualified driving instructor, paying for the driving tests and providing a car in which to sit the practical tests.

Nationally, 10,000 people had passed tests, with more than 1000 of those in Tairawhiti.

“We're really the only organisation that works almost exclusively with the Department of Corrections. Our programme is face-to-face and it works.

“We are funded to help anyone who has been in trouble with the justice system, either in the present or in the past. We take beneficiaries and turn them into taxpayers.”

Participants are mostly referred from external agencies and those within the Ministry of Justice.

The programme's Tairawhiti-based driving instructor, Lu Maultsaid, said the course had a 90 percent pass rate.

“They can't believe how easy it is,” she said.

“A huge benefit is it removes that weight from their shoulders and when they come out with a pass, they are hungry to get more. They don't just stop at learners or restricted, they go on to get their forklift, class 3 and 4.

“The ultimate is to break that cycle (of offending) and get them into employment.”

Funding for the programme ends on December 31.

Gisborne lawyer Nicola Wright said the programme had huge benefits.

“It's a real opportunity to break the offending cycle in a positive, practical way. They can take their kids to sport, take them on holiday, help make their community appointments and support their whanau.”

MILESTONE: Organisers and participants of the Howard League for Penal Reform Driving Programme came together in Gisborne yesterday to mark the programme's third anniversary. From left are Liz Street (Howard League) Adam Maseman (graduate) Jenny Michie (Howard League), Theo Akroyd (Department of Corrections) Tim Carr (graduate) Tony Maultsaid (Police), Lu Maultsaid (instructor) and Joanne Miller (Corrections). Picture by Liam Clayton