Waikeria ‘mega prison’ won’t be built but Government remains vague

Decisions on what to do about an escalating New Zealand prison population are still pending, but the government has revealed it has ruled out building a 2.500 bed prison expansion at Waikeria. other options are being considered.

Limited measures were announced in the Budget. Grant Robertson:

Our goal is to stop the spiralling prison population and reduce it by 30 percent over the next 15 years.

To respond to unavoidable short-term pressures, this Budget will fund accommodation for 600 more prisoner places in rapid-build modular units. Meanwhile, initiatives are being developed to reduce the number of people in prison, while keeping New Zealanders safe.

Three days later the Waikeria expansion was raised by Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta in a TVNZ Marae discussion – Questions surround prison after Maori Development Minister says they won’t throw ‘$1 billion at a prison Waikeria’

Appearing on TVNZ1’s Marae, Nanaia Mahuta was answering a question from National MP Jami-Lee Ross about what the budget meant for struggling families.

“We aren’t going to throw 1 billion dollars at a prison in Waikeria. We want to put it into the regional economy,” Ms Mahuta said today.

Broadcaster Miriama Kamo asked Ms Mahuta directly if that meant the prison was a no-go.

“Let’s clarify, did you just say there will not be a mega prison in Waikeria?”

Ms Mahuta said it was a matter for the Corrections minister to decide.

“I think if you build bigger prisons, they’ll get filled.”

Finance Minister Grant Robertson was quick to respond:

This prompted more questions. Stuff: Government says Waikeria won’t be ‘mega prison’, but a wider decision is pending

Asked for further comment Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said the wider decision was still pending but confirmed the “mega-prison” plans would not go ahead. However, he left the option open to expand the prison more moderately.

“We are looking at all the options to deal with the rising prison population and our current capacity crisis,” Davis said.

“I can confirm, we will not be building a mega prison with 2500 beds as proposed by the National government.

“But that decision alone does not deal with the challenges I have mentioned. And we will take action, but it will be considered and not reactive.”

Davis said he would be taking his time to make the right decision, looking at “all the options across the board”. He said he would be working with Justice Minister Andrew Little and Police Minister Stuart Nash.

The 600 prison beds announced in the budget will help address the problem, but only partially.

On Friday…

 …the union representing prison workers was calling on the Government to make a decision soon.

“All prison staff, including Community Corrections staff working in prisons, are under constant pressure, because prisons are so overcrowded they can’t do the rehabilitation work inmates need,” Public Services Association organiser Willie Cochrane said.

“600 beds will not be enough to ease the current crisis, because so many of the current prison areas are not fit to house inmates.

“If that expansion isn’t going ahead, we want to hear what more he’ll do to expand the capacity of our prisons in the short term and keep our members safe in the workplace.”

Cochrane said on Sunday…

…his members wanted a clearer response.

“Frankly, this comment from the Minister leaves us none the wiser,” Cochrane said.

“Our members welcome Labour’s commitment to cut the number of people in prison. But right now, the system is close to breaking point, and our members are getting frustrated at the time the government is taking to reach a decision.”

Labour has been vague on how they would address the growing prison population since before the election. Last August (The Spinoff):

Labour’s policy announcements have so far been all but silent on criminal justice policy. Other than 1,000 additional frontline police – a commitment that will significantly fuel rather than stem the prison population – there is no clear plan to tackle prisons. Indeed, Davis’ announcement-not-announcement of a prison run on tikanga Māori values was quickly quashed by then Labour leader Andrew Little. Until now, a question mark has hovered over Labour’s corrections policy.

Davis and his rise to the role of deputy leader of the Labour Party may yet represent one of the most exciting developments in prison policy in decades. Backed by a leader with a similarly clear vision for a more effective and humane approach to crime and punishment, a seismic shift in corrections policy could come by way of a Labour-Greens government.

With an incumbent prime minister who famously labelled prisons as “a moral and fiscal failure” and a minister of corrections desperately seeking options to reduce the prison population, Labour can put forward a radical platform to overhaul the prison system and National will be unable to do much more than nod along in agreement. There is the very real possibility – pinch me now – that this election we could see a rational, evidence-based debate on the way forward for New Zealand’s broken prison system. Let’s do that.

There has been little sign of “a rational, evidence-based debate on the way forward for New Zealand’s broken prison system”, just vagueness and delays.

Davis, Little and Labour are going  to have to make some major decisions on prisons and imprisonment rates soon.


  1. Grimm

     /  May 21, 2018

    Maybe we should stop buiding schools and hospitals as well, lest they become filled up.

    • Zedd

       /  May 21, 2018

      yer.. thats makes sense..NOT !

      • Grimm

         /  May 21, 2018

        In what way does it not make sense?

        • Zedd

           /  May 21, 2018

          errrrrrrr… I think the mark of a successful criminal justice system, is to reduce crime & ALSO have less people in prison ? :/

          **Building more prisons just adds to the potential, to “LOCK ‘EM ALL UP !” rather than look at other options/focus; education, drug rehab., employment etc. etc.

          • duperez

             /  May 21, 2018

            There’s a nice parallel there with the ‘no public transport just build more roads’ mentality in Auckland. While adding 40,000 people to the region each year.

            • alloytoo

               /  May 21, 2018

              As apposed to Auckland council’s strategy of halving road capacity?

              Oh and Trams.

          • Grimm

             /  May 21, 2018

            The criminal justice system dispenses…justice. It’s success is not measured by keeping people away from justice.

            Agree with you about focusing on other things though. NZ’s shame is the number of Maori in prison. Half the prison population. But you can see the train wreck happening in schools. The public education system is a complete failure for them. It’s baby sitting until they are old enough to go to prison. Too harsh? Go check the NCEA results for Maori..and weep. Or go ask anybody who has sat on a Board disciplinary commitee at a High School.

            That’s why quite a few Labour MP’s supported charter schools.

            • duperez

               /  May 21, 2018

              Charter schools are the answer.

              Maori who want to get their kids away from others being baby sat in schools until they’re old enough to go to prison, those who want to escape the NCEA results for Maori that that brings and those who want to get away from schools where board disciplinary committees meet regularly, can send their kids to Maori charter schools.
              A sort of brown white flight.

              That means the most difficult children to deal with will all then be in state schools. I’m sure the teachers there in the time they have their pupils, will be able to undo all the environmental and intergenerational maladies they arrive with.

              Oh, and teach them to read and write.

            • Grimm

               /  May 21, 2018

              Just for clarity, brown flight away from other brown people is your argument against charter schools?

            • duperez

               /  May 21, 2018

              Don’t know where you got that notion. Brown flight to charter schools away from other brown people is a way of not addressing the real problem.

              Pre-empting the question: Young people arriving at school from horrendous backgrounds, and every day go back to terrible home circumstances are likely to be those who appear before schools’ boards disciplinary committees and end up in prison.

              The public education system is a complete failure at ‘re-programming’ many young people, providing them with a mass of the life essentials they need, and keeping them safe. Of course it is ‘marking time,’ baby-sitting until they land in jail.

              Of course our local high school could make classes of 50 or 60 for the ‘normal’ kids from ‘normal’ homes with ‘normal’ aspirations, family support and wanting to get the most out of their formal education. That would mean resources could be dedicated to working individually or in small groups with those who need intensive work to be ‘re-programmed.’

              Then the ‘normal’ parents of the ‘normal’ kids would say their kids weren’t getting a fair share of the resources their taxes were paying for.

            • Grimm

               /  May 21, 2018

              “Young people arriving at school from horrendous backgrounds”

              We should just stop incentivising those “horrendous backgrounds”. Until we do, we’ll need more prisons. The price we pay for social liberalism is always fiscal conservatisim in the end.

    • alloytoo

       /  May 21, 2018

      I was advised by Auckland Transport that they didn’t want to build parking at Park and Rides transport hubs least they fill up.

  2. I’m giving Ministers Little and Davis (and Labour) the benefit of doubt here – though they do need to make decisions about how to handle the burgeoning prison population soon. If the delay is due to robust examination of how to reduce numbers over the long term and rehabilitate repeat offenders more effectively that is a good thing. 600 pop up beds is a band aid, real solutions lie in treating those with mental illness and rehab for those with substance abuse issues. I think a dedicated rehabilitation prison is desparately needed:

    • Grimm

       /  May 21, 2018

      Don’t we already have drug and alcohol programs, drug treatment units, young offenders programs, Maori programs, female offenders programs, psychological intervention programs, sex offender programs, motivational courses, reading courses, parenting skills etc in prisons? I’ve probably listed just a few of the programs designed around rehabilitation.

      What makes your dedicated facility any different?

      “If the delay is due to robust examination…”

      No policy has been a result of that so far.

    • A point I’d like to make is that for anyone vaguely interested in penal reform is that Waikeria is not fit for purpose in any respect. The new prison would have addressed:

      Prisoner stress, comfort and well-being, the environment would have helped their emotional and health needs.

      It would also provide better working conditions, address the myriad of management issues and the expense inherent in a series of unfit buildings dating from 1911.

      The ideological narrative of “reducing the need for prisons” is deemed enough to can the practical building of a state of the art and needed now prison. It annoys me this narrative is being put about and seemingly accepted in liberal quarters without analysis.

      As Bill English said – and there’s not a truer word uttered:

      “Good intentions are not enough. They’re not even a start, because there’s been a lot of money wasted and lives wrecked on the basis of good intentions expressed through public services,”

      • Corky

         /  May 21, 2018

        Heard Larry interview Kelvin Davis. Honestly, a wetter sack of tatties you’d be hard pressed to find.

        • Gezza

           /  May 21, 2018

          Larry? Lurch reckons so too I think.

      • Blazer

         /  May 21, 2018

        never mind Bill..the quote is…’the road to hell is..paved with..good intentions’!

  3. Gezza

     /  May 21, 2018

    9 years in Opposition to look at & come up with some policy ideas to address a problem that’s been there and growing the whole time. And now they’re in Government they’ve got nothing! Absolutely bloody nothing! <:D

    This I guess is what happens when you pick a succession of no-hopers as leader so no one with any clues gets onto getting out and about talking to orgs & doing any work on policy.

    National could face the same problem yet.

    • David

       /  May 21, 2018

      Nationals policies are still in place which is why the country is still humming along, its a good thing they sat on their lazy fat arses and did nothing for 9 years, so not really much need for policy development.

      • Blazer

         /  May 21, 2018

        nice contradiction…National just implements policies for private interests.

        • Grimm

           /  May 21, 2018

          Do you mean like the Billion given to Jones and the !00 Million given to Shaw to pick business winners?

  1. Waikeria ‘mega prison’ won’t be built but Government remains vague — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition