Whanau Transport service encourages supportive family environment for prisoners
When people have been incarcerated, especially for a long time, maintaining family relationships can be challenging. Aside from the obvious physical separation from family members, difficulties with scheduling and transport arrangements often mean that prisoners and their families don’t see each other often.
Lack of contact can contribute to the diminishing of family
relationships, and upon release, re-establishing relationships can
be extremely challenging. Without the support of their families,
re-entering society can be even more difficult for released
prisoners, which can increase their likelihood of re-offending.
A lack of transport is a common issue faced by whanau of
prisoners, and not having access to a vehicle often means visits
are infrequent, if ever. PARS (People At Risk Solutions) are
providing an answer, ensuring whanau of prisoners are able to see
their loved ones more often. Through their Whanau Transport
service, volunteers contribute their time and vehicles to drive
families and whanau to see loved ones in prison.
Helping keep families together
for over thirty years
Peggy Snowden has been volunteering with PARS for over thirty
years, having previously taught in primary and intermediate schools
in Otara, and seen the effect having a family member incarcerated
had on children. "It places such a stress on all the family, both
those on the inside, and out," she says.
Based in Auckland, Peggy predominantly transports whanau of
prisoners to Auckland Prison but also drives families to Mt Eden
Corrections Facility, Spring Hill Corrections Facility, and the
Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility, on occasion. On
average, she volunteers once a month, as visits vary dependent on
whanau needs and availability.
"I believe that returning people who have been incarcerated to a
supportive family environment is the best help on offer," she says.
"Maintaining relationships offers provision for prisoners to come
out of custody into a supportive environment, which helps them move
forward with their lives productively."
Peggy's teaching background helped her interact with whanau
during their drives in a way that would help keep them as relaxed
and comfortable as possible. "It's a matter of being accepting and
friendly," she says. "People make mistakes, and their families
suffer in many ways. Anything that helps to maintain family
relationships will help people to smoothly re-enter society when
they are released."
Driving out of his way to make a
A newer addition to the PARS volunteer group, Jeremy Hall has
recently started transporting whanau from Whangarei, Northland. He
saw an article in his local paper about PARS' services, and was
keen to get involved. Jeremy has only taken a family to the
Northland Region Corrections Facility once, so far, but found their
matter-of-fact approach to their family situation quite
Research has shown that allowing children to spend time with
incarcerated family members reduces the likelihood of
intergenerational offending, so for families with young children,
this is particularly important.
Jeremy took an older couple and their four-old granddaughter to
visit an inmate at Ngawha - their son and father. He had recently
completed a course while in prison, and they were attending his
graduation ceremony, a day of great pride and achievement.
"They hadn't seen each other for a year," says Jeremy. "They
were surprisingly accepting of this, but I found it sad knowing the
family hadn't been together for so long, simply because they didn't
have access to a car."
Jeremy lives in Kerikeri, and urges more Whangarei residents to
get involved, as the drive from the city takes approximately half
the time than from Kerikeri. He finds it saddening and frustrating
that many prisons are situated in remote areas, but are not
equipped with public transport systems to support families.
"It makes visiting so much harder," he says. "Whangarei's larger
population means that there are more families from the area that
need to see their loved ones in Ngawha. I'm happy to drive in,
collect them and drive out to the prison, because I know how
beneficial it is for families, but inadequate transport is putting
a burden on family relationships. It causes innocent families to
become a part of the sentence"
Finding strength in family
The Whanau Transport service allows families to spend time
together and maintain their bonds. In 2014 alone, PARS assisted
over 300 children to visit family members in prison all around the
country. When someone is incarcerated, their family serves time
too, and supporting them to be together reduces the chance of
re-offending when released. It offers under-resourced
families an experience that many would take for granted, yet is so
Jeremy found his experience as a Whanau Transport volunteer
extremely rewarding. "It was an interesting learning experience for
me, and I enjoyed their company hugely," he says. "After the visit,
they were just buzzing, and were so positive and accepting."
"During the drive, the incarcerated man's daughter announced
cheerfully, that she "loves her Daddy", even though she hadn't seen
him in a year," says Jeremy. "It was a really rich experience for
them, and I'm glad I could bring them together."