Supporting offenders into employment – case studies

Supporting offenders into Employment – Kaupapa Māo…
01 Oct 2019


The overall objectives of this research were to gain a better understanding of:
• trial participants’ needs and circumstances
• trial participants’ experiences of the service they receive
• if/how the trial participants believe the service is helping them prepare for/obtain work
• if/how the service helps trial participants re-integrate back into the community and towards employment and other positive outcomes
• key individual and contextual factors that contribute to success or otherwise.

The purpose of this research was to understand the experience of SOE participants from the perspective of clients, case managers, client’s whānau, and significant others.


A mixed-methods research design was used, incorporating case study methodology and kaupapa Māori theory. Both methodologies helped guide the research team. This mixed-methods design followed the He Awa Whiria (Braided Rivers) model which suggest that insights from both mātauranga Māori and Western social science are equally important and can be considered together. Case studies focus on the personal experience of participants who are receiving the service, helping them to reflect on their activities and thinking. This methodology uses various techniques including interviews and observations. Kaupapa Māori research methods were used in the recruitment of participants, collection of data, and analysis of findings. This approach was appropriate because of the disproportionate rates of Māori offending. It aimed to generate insights about the cultural appropriateness of the SOE model and what enabled the successful reintegration of clients back into the community. This lens is critical to understanding the cultural contexts in which offenders are rehabilitated.

Data collection occurred from October 2018 to March 2019 across four internal SOE sites in Te Awamutu, Palmerston North, Porirua, and Hastings and the two external sites in Christchurch. 

In general, the methods for recruiting Department of Corrections clients had a 27% response rate but this varied across sites with recruitment being more likely at the two external sites.

Of the 31 clients involved in the trial, 6 were women and 25 were men. 13 clients were Māori, four were Pasifikā and 14 were NZ European. Most of the interviewees, 27, were in prison at the time they first engaged with the trial and four were referred from the community. At the time of the research project 10 were employed, five were working part time (including one who was retired and one who was studying), 11 were unemployed and five had returned to prison.

In total, 52 interviews were completed with clients (31), providers (12), and client support people (nine). Most interviews were kanohi-ki-te-kanohi (face-to-face) and the remainder were over the phone. With informed consent all interviews were recorded and transcribed. Interviews were undertaken inside MSD premises, at external service premises and/or in neutral, public spaces (e.g., in cafes).

The research team used processes and practices that affirmed and validated kaupapa Māori research approaches including the use of mihimihi (introductions), acknowledging whakapapa (kinship connections), whanaungatanga (establishing relationships), and acting in a respectful, mana-enhancing ways with all participants. The research team completed 31 case studies based around client experiences of the trial. Each case study was intended to consist of three perspectives, including the client, the key agency support person, and whānau or other support person.

Across the 31 case studies we conducted thematic analysis of the narratives about the trial process, client needs and circumstances, and contextual and individual factors to identify what works for those clients, what contributes to client success, and what might be improved. We compared and contrasted the key themes that emerged across the internal and external services to identify similarities and differences for clients, case managers and whānau/support persons.

The key themes aligned with the expression of several tikanga practices (Māori customs and values) and through a process of grouping and distilling these themes, the research team identified five tikanga that most aligned with the themes. The research team was then able to present the findings through the five tikanga using the voices and experiences of clients, agency staff, and whānau/support persons drawn from the case studies.

Key Results

The case studies reflect the experience of participating in the SOE trial as told by the 31 participants, along with the contributions of 12 programme staff and 9 other support people.

The case studies reflect the common challenges faced by those coming out of prison. They also illustrate that addressing those challenges requires a response founded on the needs and abilities of each individual, who must face these challenges in their own way.

The common barriers the participants faced, in addition to finding employment, are:

  • finding suitable and affordable accommodation
  • having enough money to survive even at a very subsistence level
  • grappling with alcohol and drug use
  • being disconnected from whānau, and rebuilding relationships
  • having the enablers of civil living, such as identity documents, driving licenses, bank accounts
  • coping with feelings of failure and low self-worth
  • trusting in the people involved in the SOE programme, despite having had major trust issues with authority figures before
  • having the resilience to cope with setbacks such as injuries, or losing a job or accommodation
  • the dislocation from normal living that comes from long periods of imprisonment

The case studies detail the range of adversity faced by those leaving prison, but they also provide some great success stories. They show examples of great determination and resilience in face of disappointment or system failings, and often considerable insights and self-understanding.

Page last modified: 07 Nov 2023