This month marks the third anniversary of the Navigate Initiative, a ground-breaking partnership between local not-for-profit Pathway Charitable Group and Ara Poutama Aotearoa/Department of Corrections which is changing lives from inside the wire!
Pathway has spent the past 20 years working on ways to help reduce the high number of people who return to prison, often more than once, after their period of imprisonment.
In 2018, this culminated in the launch of the Navigate Initiative, an intensive wraparound rehabilitative programme based in Christchurch Men’s Prison.
Our prison population represents some of New Zealand’s most challenging people.
Corrections research shows that 91 per cent of the people they manage will meet the criteria for a mental health and/or addiction diagnosis at some point in their lifetime and 22 per cent of men in prison have a personal history of trauma and a lifetime diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Alcohol and other drugs (AOD) are often factors in people’s offending with 87 per cent of people who enter prisons having identified AOD issues.
Chief Science Advisor for the justice sector, Dr Ian Lambie wrote in his 2020 study that a large proportion of the prison population are victims of brain trauma or a significant neurodevelopmental issue such as Foetal alcohol syndrome (FASD), about half of all prisoners have diagnosable dyslexia, while half also qualify for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
After what is sometimes a long or repeated imprisonment, people released back into the community can struggle to secure housing, build positive relationships or find employment. These are just some of the challenges for those without the tools or support to maintain a life without crime and may lead to people falling back into social groups and behaviours that result in reoffending.
The Navigate Initiative aims to break this cycle.
Based on a community-led reintegration support model, this unique community of change is home to 20 men at any time and includes intensive pre-release preparation for 6-12 months from within prison and ongoing support in the community for another 6-12 months post-release.
Prisoners receive practical support to rebuild their lives, including securing employment, safe and affordable housing, drivers licenses, bank accounts and identification, as well as extensive wraparound services in the community, including collaborative mentoring, addiction and whānau support, cultural development and restorative justice opportunities.
Christchurch Men’s Prison Director Jo Harrex says the Navigate Initiative is proving to be a valuable addition to the prison’s reintegration programmes and particularly for this group of men who have served significant or many terms of imprisonment.
“These men have complex histories as well as limited community connections and resources to successfully transition and live pro-socially in the community,” she says. “They require a higher level of reintegrative support, both before and after leaving prison.
“This innovative partnership with Pathway has enabled us to bring the community into the prison space, to provide a more seamless and bespoke programme for this group of long-serving men as they prepare and transition from prison. This helps create better futures for these men, reduces their risk of reoffending and, ultimately, results in happier, safer communities.”
University of Canterbury Director of Criminal Justice Dr Jarrod Gilbert, who is carrying out a formal evaluation on the effectiveness of the model, says that although the Navigate Initiative is a significant departure from the ‘norm’ when it comes to the New Zealand prison system, it represents a powerful method to stop the revolving door of prison.
"Navigate is the type of programme I’ve always wanted to see included in the imprisonment process. It incorporates best practice and up-to-date desistance theory into a common-sense programme run by people who really care about what they’re doing,” he says.
“It’s still early days, but the results so far are encouraging. The men who’ve been through it speak very highly of the programme and see it as a path to a better life for them and their families."
Pathway Reintegration Manager Anaru Baynes says the latest figures show 93 per cent of the 61 men who have come through the Navigate unit and been released back into the community with the organisation’s ongoing support are still back in the community.
“That’s 93 per cent of these former prisoners who have served long or repeated prison sentences, who are continuing to make the absolute most of the fresh start that Pathway has enabled them.”
But the work isn’t just life-changing for those the organisation is working with, Anaru adds. “It is in everybody’s best interest that when someone comes out of prison and is motivated to live a crime-free and harm-free life, that they are enabled to do so because that benefits everybody,” he says.
“That’s exactly what Pathway is attending to, ensuring those people can be encouraged and motivated to change their lives and that they have the building blocks to be able to do so.”