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Matapuna marks 10 years as Community of Change

10 December 2020

Ara Poutama staff, programme participants and community partners came together on 4 December to mark the 10th anniversary of Christchurch Men’s Prison’s Matapuna Special Treatment Unit.

Matapuna is a 60 bed therapeutic community based around a programme specifically aimed at tāne with a history of serious violent or sexual offending and identified as having a high risk of reoffending. With an average of 10 tāne commencing each programme, just over 500 men have started the Matapuna programme over the decade.

The milestone was commemorated with the unveiling of a plaque by National Commissioner Rachel Leota and the planting of a commemorative tree by Matapuna’s longest serving staff member, Programme Facilitator Alana Bray.

“This is a significant milestone for Matapuna therapeutic community,” says Acting Manager Psychological Services, Sarah Head. “At the core of Matapuna is the concept of a ‘community of change’ where custodial and therapy staff work in partnership with tāne to support change in the programme.”

“Over their time in Matapuna, usually around 12 months, tāne are supported by the Unit team and their peers to develop a deeper understanding of the thoughts, attitudes, behaviour and situations that lead them to violent behaviour; the impact of their behaviour on others; and to develop some personal management and effective self-regulation strategies to maintain a violence free lifestyle. These skills will help these men break the cycle of violence and reoffending and to become better fathers, partners, employees, and members of the community with the skills to manage challenges in their lives in a non-violent way. Learning about what drives their behaviour is key to the participants setting goals beyond prison and having the skills to move forward.”

And Corrections’ own research has also shown the approach works, with the Matapuna programme reducing reoffending by 25 per cent for released prisoners given reintegration support on parole.

Built on an existing violence prevention programme in the prison, Matapuna was the last of Corrections’ four prison-based Special Treatment units for serious violent or sexual offending. The programme is delivered by a team of psychologists and programme facilitators, supported by a reintegration coordinator and custodial staff.

Matapuna was opened in 2010 by then Minister of Justice, Dr The Honourable Sir Pita Sharples.

“I suspect that what Sir Pita Sharples saw even then was what we see now,” says Deputy Regional Commissioner, Justin Rowlands, “how this more humanising and healing environment supports our men to develop and sustain a better self. If he were here now, I hope he would also commend our desire to see things through a Te Ao Maori lens and compliment the Matapuna community on the work they do with those in our care. Over the past ten years, the Matapuna community have built a foundation for participation and partnership which is a key element in the success of this flagship and globally renowned programme at Ara Poutama Aotearoa.”

“Those outcomes are made possible through the integrated and collaborative activities of our clinicians, our custody officers, our educators and all of our support people who work to help keep tāne stay safe and learn skills to leave prison committed to a pro-social, less violent future. I think for the people who do this mahi don’t see their role as a job, they see their role as a vocation - fundamental to participants’ successful entry back into society. We know that our special treatment units are the jewel in the crown of our reintegrative activities and the proof is in the reduction in reoffending rates for the men who have graduated this programme and the low occurrence of aggression or incidents in this place.”

Aptly, the name Matapuna means a spring or source of a river. Traditionally Maori immersed people in springs for healing, so the Matapuna Special Treatment Unit means a place of healing and balance, and of getting back to basics.

Are you a Psychologist who is interested in a career change?

Psychologists (Kaimātai Hinengaro) assess and treat offenders who have a high risk of re-offending and who often present with complex psychological issues. Working both in the prison and in the community, they assess the individual needs and provide one-on-one or group treatment.

Kaimātai Hinengaro have a strong professional identity in the department. They report to psychologists and are supported by a National Office team led by our chief psychologist.

Learn more and share your skills with others today!


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Therapy Group: Sarah Head and Programme Facilitator Tony Bird lead a therapy group at Matapuna


10th anniversary plaque of the Christchurch Men’s Prison’s Matapuna Special Treatment Unit