Howard League for Penal Reform
Cosmo (Cos) Jeffrey, President of the Canterbury Howard league, gave us an interesting insight into his journey and current activities with the Howard League.
Born in the North Island, Cos left school in the 4th form and became involved in the Road Runners motorcycle gang.  He then decided to study for a BA while also attending a church where he became increasingly involved in helping those in need which led to him deciding that this was a worthy vocation to pursue.
“I looked about for social work training and completed a 2 year Post Graduate Diploma in Social Work” continued Cos. This then led to him working for a year in the prison system with a motorcycle gang who were so poor that they couldn’t afford to own many bikes.
It was a great experience, however, and the church he was with decided that a good approach at that time was to support them which resulted in him getting a job in 1974 as a “detached” social worker.  “Unfortunately, my mode of transport at that time was a Vauxhall Viva which did not go down that well, so I swapped it for a Triumph Trident which was much more acceptable” smiled Cos.
About that time a full scale war developed between rival bikie gangs and he took this opportunity to start going to Rolleston prison where he was allowed access to jailed bikers.  After a while a truce was eventually formed as they began to see that there was little future in remaining rivals.
As the groups began to gradually develop ways of helping themselves move forward, they decided to develop a co-op and began working on various projects that gave them work experience.  This eventually led to building a solid base via a farm setting they were able to access.
“I then retired for a while “ continued Cos “but eventually returned to Christchurch and worked with the unemployed while also becoming involved in a programme that helped kids ride mini motorbikes”.
At that time there was also a lot of car importing going on, and so he next got into this area importing specialist vehicles and parts. Unfortunately his business was raided in 1979 as, unbeknown to him, a colleague had arranged for drugs to be stowed away in one of the imported cars.  After a court case Cos suddenly found himself in jail with a six-year sentence.
“Jail was a struggle for me as I was a pacifist and soon found I had to protect and defend everything I had with me” he continued.  Luckily after 2 years the Parole Board released him which he found rather overwhelming.  He eventually got back into business and also decided to join and work with the Howard League which he soon became President of and remains so to this day.
It terms of his current thinking about incarceration, Cos feels that most prisons have little going for them as there is often very little for inmates to do.  This gave him an idea … why don’t we get training courses in place?  He felt this was a good solution for many prisoners who are locked up most of the time with people they often don’t like and little to do which as a result often leads to them acting out in a frequently violent manner.
Offering and running training, on the other hand, helps push the idea of ‘being better when you get out’ as courses focus on helping inmates learn skills that will help them grow and hopefully survive when they are released which avoids becoming trapped in seeing jail as a way of life.
“I currently work in the 18-21 year old Unit” shared Cos.  For most youth this is their 1st time in jail and the programmes ensure they have things to learn and do which includes managing & operating a sizeable garden.  The produce they grow are entered in shows and win prizes which helps give them a real sense of achievement. 
“For many this is the 1st time they have ever done anything like that” noted Cos. The programme is also beginning to offer cooking lessons which is another skill many have little experience of.
Cos ended his talk by noting that the Howard League is struggling and suggested that donating as little as two cups of coffee a month would help cover half of a co-worker’s salary and will also give the donator a regular newsletter on what the League is up to.
We thanked Cosmo for his presentation and for giving us a glimpse into the valuable skills-building work the League does.