Deportees: Taken from the brink
Reintegrating back into life after an extended period of time in prison is always rife with complications, regardless of the circumstances around release. For people originally from New Zealand who end up in the Australian prison system, deportation adds a whole other level of upheaval to this process. Many of these people have been living in Australia for most of their lives – all of their adulthood and much of their childhood, too.
The issue is further complicated for prisoners who have mental
health issues, who make up a fairly substantial section of the
prison population. According to statistics from the Australian
Institute of Health and Welfare, 46% of released prisoners have
some form of mental health issue - and approximately a quarter of
prison entrants are referred to mental health services. Figures
from New Zealand are not dissimilar - with a 2005 survey showing
21% of all prisoners had suicidal thoughts at some point.
Thrown into the unknown
Among the deportees that PARS (People At Risk Solutions) have
supported in recent times is Leah. Leah is 39. She moved to
Australia with her family when she was 11, meaning that it had been
her home for 28 years. She and her family did not realise that her
time in prison would conclude with her being deported to New
Zealand. "My family had a room ready for me to come back to and
She found out that she was going to be deported two weeks before
her release. What should have been a time of readjustment and
family support turned quickly into something very different. "It
was horrific. It was very traumatising."
Leah suffers from a variety of mental health problems, including
severe depression and anxiety. She is upfront about how the
situation affected her, and how serious the effects of both prison
and deportation were on her already fragile mental health.
"Throughout my time in prison I was bullied and pushed around. It
was terrible. There was one other woman in my area, and she
wouldn't come near me." If PARS had not gotten involved when they
did, Leah says, "I could have taken my life".
A gentler readjustment
Coming back to New Zealand meant coming back to nobody, and no
support - as far as Leah was aware. She had difficulty getting help
from her first few case workers - but struck it lucky with her
fourth one, who put her onto PARS. "I had my first contact over the
phone. Rachael was gentle-natured with a lovely spirit. I felt safe
Things started to fall into place as PARS helped Leah through
her paces. "They took me to the bank, to WINZ - they took me
shopping and drove me around." A particularly important moment for
Leah was when she was taken on a marae visit by the Pae Arahi of
PARS. "It was very beautiful. He said a prayer for me on the sacred
ground. It meant I felt I had something to look forward to in New
Zealand, that I could learn more about Maori culture and language,
even though I'm pakeha."
Dealing with difficulties
There will always be some obstacles in readjusting to life
outside prison and in a country that is dictated as being where you
belong, even if you don't feel the same way. "I worked very hard
for two months looking for accommodation - getting dressed up,
talking to agents. I had to learn to take charge, to put myself out
The help that PARS provided in learning these skills is
something Leah is especially thankful for. "They taught me about
real estate agents, and how to do the paperwork." This meant that
Leah could get out there by herself, rather than depending on the
presence of a PARS worker, and helped her establish herself as her
own person, rather than just as a former prisoner.
Leah is now in a home with a 12-month lease. She is still
adjusting to issues such as dealing with Work and Income and
managing her depression and anxiety. But considering the
rollercoaster that she has been through since finding out that she
wouldn't be going home to her family, she has been doing remarkably
well - which is a testament both to her own personal strength and
the role that PARS have played in her readjustment.
*not her real name