Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Prisoners free to open bank accounts behind bars

Prisoners across New Zealand are now able to open a bank account ahead of their release under a partnership between Westpac NZ and Ara Poutama Aotearoa Department of Corrections.

The ‘New Start’ scheme, which is the first of its kind in New Zealand, ensures prisoners have a valid ID, debit card and online banking access at the time they are released, to make it easier for them to reintegrate into the community.

Westpac NZ Head of Consumer Operations, Jason Lock says New Start gives prisoners the best chance possible of resuming normal life.

“A bank account is like a passport to the economy. Without one it’s hard to get a job, pay the rent, receive a benefit or do many of the other things we take for granted in our lives. That’s why inclusion in the banking system is so important,” Mr Lock said.

New Start became available in all 17 Corrections facilities in December 2021, following a successful pilot programme in which over 60 prisoners opened bank accounts.

Corrections General Manager for Case Management and Probation, Darius Fagan said he was pleased the programme was being rolled out more widely.

“Individuals who have been released have enough upheaval to deal with in their lives. Being able to sort out an ID and bank account before release removes one more set of challenges,” says Mr Fagan.

He said setting up an account was often challenging for people in prison, who frequently lacked the required identity and address documents that a bank would need to open an account.

The New Start programme starts by providing someone in prison with the right ID, which can then be used to open a transactional Westpac NZ bank account with a debit card.

“The process has been made so easy and it can all be done before someone is released,” says Mr Fagan.

“They simply need to fill out the paperwork, see the onsite Justice of the Peace to get their ID verified, then we send it all off to Westpac. When their account is opened, the individual receives a welcome pack with all the information they need about their new account. Their debit card is sent to the prison, and we keep it in their property.”

He said Westpac NZ still carefully considers all applications for bank accounts to ensure compliance with the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act 2009.

“A small number of prisoners will have their applications declined for these reasons, but we’re taking a really open mind when we look at applications, as where possible, we’re keen to drive greater inclusion in the banking system,” said Mr Lock.

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