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There is an ever-increasing social divide that exists in New Zealand. The very real financial and human toll that this situation creates is still largely invisible and avoidable for most of us and yet, if you scratch beneath the surface, the true size of the problem reveals itself. Take a look at the country’s violent crime and drug statistics, already some of the worst in the western world. Tune in to the news and you will find yet another drama unfolding on a daily basis. Sadly many of us continue to turn a blind eye because we believe the problem is too big to tackle on an individual basis, or we fear the consequences of getting involved and/or believe it is someone else’s problem to solve. While this response is understandable, it’s also what prevents us from making any real inroads in addressing this huge inter generational societal problem.

Nothing happens until something moves

Progress will come if we can apply some fresh thinking to the problem.  The much-awaited report from the New Zealand Productivity Commission titled ‘More Effective Social Services’ recognises that the current system is simply not working for New Zealand’s most disadvantaged citizens.    Initial findings from an independent expert panel, led by Paula Rebstock, which is developing a complete overhaul of Child, Youth and Family similarly concur that the system is failing the 60,000’  children that are in violent and unsafe homes and it needs to undergo transformational change.raw ambition reclaim another woman annah stretton

Let’s start with understanding their world

A life based in crime is lucrative. The pay-out is good, the working hours are reasonable, and if you get caught, prison isn’t such a bad place to go to. At least there’s surety around food, shelter and companionship. They know no other way of life, many have been born into a legacy of drugs, crime and violence, and have missed the schooling system, despite the best efforts of the system to encapsulate them. Educational desire is driven through expectation and encouragement on the home front and this does not happen for so many of these children. So what are they faced with? A life sentence of low/unskilled employment, or the benefit, on which to eke out an existence. Crime seems a much more enticing option and it is socially acceptable among their community.

Mainstream New Zealand society has a limited understanding and/or tolerance of the full extent and the seriousness of the problem. Crime, drugs and violence are a normal part of everyday life for this demographic. To have any hope of changing that norm for the next generation, we must focus on the one person that can change the outcomes ….The MOTHER!

We continue to fund the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff

The societal change we seek, along with the funds the country has invested to date, has largely over looked MUM. Instead, we are focusing resources on addressing the most basic human needs of food and shelter for the children of this socially submerged demographic. Unfortunately these same kids are returning to a dysfunctional MUM each night and that does not make for long term sustainable change regardless of the public and privately focused funding being directed towards them.

Mum is the gatekeeper to the change we seek and need in New Zealand.

Young Maori mothers hold the key to the change we require, so it is time to reconsider how we reach them and it’s not by doing what we have done before.  As at 31 December 14, 64.4% of female prisoners are Maori despite making up only 27% of the total adult population.

Let’s focus on preventative funding

We have so many organisations working in crisis mode – now we need to supplement their good work by focusing resources on creating different choices that are self-sustaining. Getting socially disadvantaged mums into a stronger place to make better choices regarding their – and ultimately their children’s – future is where the RAW model is focused.

 Within almost every one of the so called criminal families there is the matriarch and it is she that has the potential to ensure the generations of children yet to be born within the family are offered a destiny that is different to those that have gone before. The women who come to prison are those matriarchs, and in many cases are raising the criminals of the next generation. If we can accept that fact, and find the courage and conviction to work alongside them in that reality, rather than condemning them for it, I believe we will make a significant difference.

Celia Lashlie – The Journey to Prison”

So what is RAW?

  • RAW is based off a working business model that many leading global entrepreneurs have advanced in developing countries.
  • RAW provides an unprecedented level of 360 degree wrap around support to those that society has been unable to re-integrate given the recidivist nature of their offending.
  • RAW gives choice and visibility to those that are unable to re-integrate into mainstream society through supported living and education.
  • RAW breaks the cycle of drugs, crime and violence for recidivist female offenders through supported living and education.
  • RAW teaches women to fish and provide a future for their families – through supported living and education.
  • RAW changes the outcomes for mothers, the hub and spoke of the family unit. Their change will mean their children are once again loved, protected and nurtured.
  • RAW enables the next generation to be nurtured though the education system with a highly functional mother.
  • RAW wins the war of social disruption and fiscal cost by reintegrating the women through supported education that also addresses the country’s employment skill gaps.
  • RAW assists the government to implement policies, guidelines and fiscal frameworks that will achieve this objective and stop the long term funding drain and social cost for New Zealand.


The How – The RAW Incubation Programme

The RAW incubator model provides a multi-layered level of support that advances, challenges and excites the RAW women as well as addressing the key barriers to living a legal life. We have identified the key barriers to achieving successful re-integration into society as;

  • Associating with previous contacts.
  • Returning to familiar, negative environments.
  • Limited, if any, access to support/skill building/direction/trusted dependable partnerships.
  • A disconnection, stigmatisation and rejection by mainstream society.
  • Government agencies are limited in their ability to connect and support – they are under resourced and ill equipped to manage the disruption and chaos that they encounter.

Given the extent of these barriers, it’s little wonder the women being released into our communities struggle to integrate, quickly lose belief in themselves and return to their previous lifestyles and patterns of illegal behaviours.

RAW offers a pathway forward to a different lifestyle. From Incarceration to Incubation  

The RAW incubator programme begins in prison where women are assessed against rigid criteria to confirm their readiness for change and for “incubation”.  On selection, RAW then guides the women’s choice, involvement and completion of relevant educational pathways – that begin on the inside, and which will continue on the outside – as well as building up a trusted relationship. RAW travels the entire journey with those on the incubator programme. Waikato Probation have even assigned specific officers to the incubator initiative, whom we work closely with and are now taking into the prison to meet with the RAW women prior to their release, to encourage engagement and trust where this has not been the case on release previously.

On release from prison, RAW women are placed in incubator homes which house up to 4 women including one house mother (usually a RAW women that has been out for more than 4 months).  These homes have been secured and rented by RAW in the Hamilton area.  This geographic separation from their old world is all part of the total focus on establishing the behaviour change and educational pathways required to successfully reintegrate these women back into mainstream living without disruption.

Incubator House Rules Provide Structure

Incubator houses provide a safe, structured living environment that allows for growth, acceptance and sound decision making.  While the rules of the incubator homes are extensive – For example, they do not allow children to live in and only approved visitors are welcome – they are welcomed by the residents. RAW women have come from a disciplined environment (prison) and therefore guidelines and restrictions are the one thing that provides stability while they are beginning to advance with RAW’s 360 wrap around support service . The initial incubation period is for 12 months as this time frame feels achievable by the women entering the programme and, is also long enough to achieve sustained behavioral and life changes. In many ways the RAW programme is an extension of the incarcerated environment but unlike prison, RAW is achieving very real and different outcomes that are unprecedented in this country.

RAW focuses on mums and becomes the “navigator” that the ‘More effective social services Report’ recommends the government adopt.  It works at an individual level to understand the needs and the services (education, health, living) required to help each woman to reshape their lives.

Pay it forward

The incubated girls have also been approved by Corrections to re-enter the Wiri Prison to promote this initiative to other inmates – this is unprecedented! Such is the agreement and belief in the Incubation Programme that the Department of Corrections have acted to support this initiative at all levels, including unlimited and unprecedented access to inmates and mutual information sharing with essential providers. The support from the Waikato community has also been incredible. The incubator houses are fully furnished from donated content. The gifting has been heartfelt and a first for the women, who are already giving back in a variety of ways. Wintec and the Waikato University have offered full educational scholarships for all the incubator women as well as being flexible and inclusive with start dates to ensure the women are busy and engaged as soon as they arrive (which may often be ‘mid-term’)

We have also had massive corporate, government and private trust fund, and individual connection and buy in. They include – the Tindal foundation, Kate Tindal, Minister Amy Adams, CEO of Westpac David McLean, Sir William Gallagher, Police District Commissioner Bruce Bird, Mayor Julie Hardacker, Director of the Wiri Women’s Prison Cheryle Mikaere.  Each of these individuals have visited an incubator home and fully support, applaud and endorse the concept.


RAW Funding

RAW is currently securing a funding vehicle for each incubator home through a government and corporate partnership. RAW has also established a retail presence – RAW – to sell donated goods, the proceeds of which all go directly back into funding the RAW programme. This store is managed by the RAW women, taking into account their study commitments and parole conditions, and enables them to work alongside employed and volunteer personnel from mainstream NZ. As well as providing an income, this store also makes a connection with the RAW brand and enables barriers between incarcerated women and mainstream society to be broken down.

RAW aims to have nine homes up and running by the end of 2016. 

We have 35 women on the pathway in Wiri that are due to be released in the next 18 months that will lead to 9 incubator Home’s being up and running in the Waikato.* RAW covers the total cost of living for each woman for the year they are incubated. We have essentially become a very successful and very different non-government funded out-of-gate provider.

*These figures are subject to change as the RAW numbers are increasing weekly as we connect with the women’s prisons throughout New Zealand.

High Success Rate 

To date we have had almost* 100% success with the women that have been released into incubation. They have not been recalled and are actively involved and guided in selecting educational change that acknowledges the countries biggest skill gaps; IT, engineering, art, health and the trades.

*one woman has been recalled, this was instigated by RAW

It makes good dollars and sense 

It costs $92,000.00 per year to keep one woman incarcerated. This does not include community expenses, policing, probation, costs of criminal behaviors (insurances), destruction of families (collateral damage of making income by criminal activity including drug manufacturing and tracking, legal aid, court costs, CYPS, medical costs, unpaid fines ongoing debt etc). It takes little calculation to forecast the savings at every level that this initiative can make for all those involved. 35 women x $26,000k p.a. on a benefit that will have a finite end, as the women finish study and go into careers, not just jobs, at the end of the study term.

An additional funding line of $20k per woman pa as they move through the incubation and extended study period (capped at 3 years) is sought from the government, corporates and private funders as an out-of-gate provider, to truly advance and cement this change. First year savings to the Government per woman is $46,000 (x 3 years of a degree $138K) then the women will become independent and functioning contributors to mainstream.

RAW provides a more effective funding model

RAW’s cost to change the outcomes of not just a single woman, but the next generation as well is a compelling equation 3 years on a benefit $26K plus 3 years of $20K extra support = $138k versus a lifetime of repeat offending and support costs of $2million.

This is working and will scale

At the end of the incubation year we fully unite the women with their children and secure housing, and wrap around them as a lifelong initiative, to continue their educational and career pathway. The women will remain on a RAW benefit along with supplemented funding support for their period of study. The wrap around guidance and support from the RAW initiative will continue for the rest of their lives, should they need it.

RAW has simply been a catalyst to commence this very necessary work 

RAW has broken the cycle for the first lot of incubated women. It has given them visibility and bought them back as contributors to mainstream NZ where they will now raise their children from a very different platform. These women will be the game changers for the social change that is needed in New Zealand. They are resourceful and determined; seeing RAW as the opportunity they never thought they would have. RAW has got them up and running towards an exciting finishing post for themselves and their children.

The words of Celia Lashlie resonate strongly …. 

 “For me it isn’t just about us ‘fixing them’ – it’s about empowering those that come from disadvantaged and criminal backgrounds to realise the potential that they have to make a difference within their own families. It is about showing them that they can be different and that they are the key to that difference. It is about investing them with sense of themselves and a right to live a life free of hassle and harassment”

From Celia Lashlie – The Journey to Prison”

The next evolution 

Our next goal is to expand the reach of this model but we need New Zealander’s help to achieve that outcome.

  • We need Government support and buy in.
  • We need community acceptance, collaboration and trust.
  • We need donations of time, money and excess goods and services from corporate, and private individuals

We welcome the opportunity to discuss any form of contribution you are able to make to help us continue our momentum.

The Cost of the Status Quo

35 women at $92, 000 pa when incarcerated = $3.2million (minimum) cost to the Government and NZ per annum. If we assume that these women repeat their existing pattern of reoffending then the costs per woman rapidly escalate.

  • 30 odd years of recidivist behavior and govt support (16 to 50 years)
  • If we assume 50% in incarcerated costs and 50% in benefit related costs we are looking at around $1.5m in incarcerated costs ($100k x 15 years) and $390k in benefit related costs ($26k x 15 years)
  • Total cost over the 30 years almost $2m for one woman that is then bringing up her children to repeat the cycle.

Extract from New Zealand Productivity Commissions report on More Effective Social Services – September 2015

A new deal for the most disadvantaged New Zealanders

A relatively small proportion of people fall into group D, but they experience consistently poor results across health, education, welfare dependency and crime. This can create a cycle of disadvantage that persists across generations. This is unsatisfactory for all of us – those in need, those tasked with helping and New Zealand society generally. We have the opportunity to do better.

For these people and their families, just making the current system work better is not enough. They need an adaptive, client-centred approach to service design. They need “navigators” who can engage with them and their family, understand their situation and support them to access the services they need. Yet the current funding and delivery of services through administrative silos makes this difficult.

Navigator services work better if they, and agencies that commission services, have responsibility for improving outcomes for a defined population. Service decisions and a dedicated budget should be close to the clients and reflect their needs. Better information on navigator and provider performance, and clients’ needs and outcomes, will be required to guide funding and service decisions.

The Government should assess and implement an appropriate model with the features required for successful integrated services targeted at the most disadvantaged. Whānau Ora is an important, but incomplete, step towards such a model. Our report outlines two candidate models with the required features – a Better Lives agency and District Health and Social Boards.

Implementing a new model will require a major shift in thinking and structures. It is both achievable and realistic, but putting it into practice will take time and persistence.

The system frequently treats them as passive recipients of services rather than active participants in improving their own lives.