Bedtime stories from prison

Issue: Volume 98, Number 9

Posted: 4 June 2019
Reference #: 1H9ues

The coordinator of a prison programme designed to help literacy, wellbeing and whānau connection discusses the Bedtime Stories programme.

Arohata Women’s Prison has been running its Bedtime Stories programme for three years.

The programme involves a team of about three volunteers visiting the prison once a month with a range of books that prisoners can select for their child.

An audio technician records the prisoner reading the book aloud and creates a CD, which is sent with the picture book to the child. The child is then able to read the book along with their parent’s voice.

Coordinator Kerryn Palmer says the women are able to choose from a selection of around 200 books.

“We just have a chat about who their children or their grandchildren or their nieces and nephews are and what ages they are and we help direct them to what sort of books might be good for them,” she says.

“The kids get a brand new book as a gift, plus they get to hear their relative reading it. The idea is that they can get into a routine and they’ve got a connection with their parent or their grandparent while they’re incarcerated.”

Maintaining the connection

Kerryn has been involved in education since leaving school herself. Originally trained as a primary teacher, she has taught in early childhood and secondary school. She is now a university lecturer and also teaches the elderly.

“For a long time I worked on the Duffy Books in Homes programme and that’s had quite a big influence on this programme. That whole idea of gifting new books to children and getting more books in the homes of underprivileged children, that’s really influenced the work that I do in the prison now,” she says.

“Part of it is keeping that connection going. Because there are few women’s prisons, quite often we find the children are far away, and could be at the other end of New Zealand, so it’s not like you can even visit on a very regular basis.”

There are also benefits in terms of literacy, Kerryn says.

“That idea of setting up or continuing reading to children as an important cultural value in the home and a lot of the women do say it’s something that they really miss doing. The hope is if they haven’t done it then maybe it’s something they might continue doing on their release.

“There’s quite a lot of research that shows if people that are incarcerated maintain a good connection with their family then their rehabilitation is greater and they’re less likely to reoffend, so again it’s trying to keep that sense of family and keep that sense of togetherness.”

Acknowledge and encourage

Her advice to teachers who wish to support students with a loved one in prison is to encourage the child to discuss their emotions.

“Rather than just ignoring it because it’s an uncomfortable thing, actually acknowledge by saying ‘Hey, your mum’s in prison and it must be really hard. How about we write a weekly letter or we do photos?’,” she says.

“Or ‘How about you read a story and send it back to your mum in prison?’ I think it’s really acknowledging that and encouraging them to keep up a positive relationship with that family member rather than just ignoring it.”

For more information on the bedtime stories programme, email

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:03 am, 4 June 2019

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