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.

Prisons “a moral and fiscal failure”

Today’s Dominion Post editorial says that More prisons are not the answer.

A recent announcement from Corrections Minister Judith Collins claimed that levels of crime are down but, and this may seem paradoxical, the prison population is up. According to Collins, this necessitates a massive $1 billion plan to create another 1800 beds in prisons.

Cynics might wish that houses could be built with such speed and commitment.

Yet our imprisonment rates are already more than a third higher than Australia and the UK, with an alarmingly high number of reoffenders. Figures show that 69 per cent of people starting new sentences have been sentenced previously, according to Act leader David Seymour, who calls the “prison population blowout largely a reoffending blowout”.

Which is what the ‘3 strikes’, introduced by the Act Party, was supposed to address? Locking up more people for longer will inevitably lead to more prison beds unless something else changes.

Has ‘3 strikes’ failed to deter recidivist criminals?

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill English famously called our prisons a “moral and fiscal failure”. That line has come back to haunt the Government. 

As it should. The Government continues this moral and fiscal failure.

Advocacy groups such as the Howard League argue persuasively that reoffending could decline if education and training was more accessible to prisoners, nearly 65 per cent of whom have literacy levels below NCEA level 1.

That’s a failure of our education system, and a failure of parenting.

By contrast with Corrections’ big spend, only a fraction of the $15 million recently allocated by Prime Minister John Key to tackle the methamphetamine problem will go towards treatment and education programmes in schools and prisons. Despite some gestures by this Government towards more sophisticated social investment approaches, the numbers tell a different story about populist, simplistic answers to complex crime and punishment questions.

Perhaps we need something different than prisons for drug addicts.

Something appears to be going badly wrong when our imprisonment rates are a third higher than Australia and the UK.

Talking tough may appease some lobby groups and voters. It’s a lot tougher finding solutions that work.

Prison numbers, big $s

Today the Government announced that ‘prison capacity’ will be increased by about 1800 beds on existing sites.

Stuff says it will cost $1 billion: Government’s $1b plans to sleep 1800 more prisoners creating ‘schools for crime’ – Labour

The Government’s plans to spend a billion dollars on more beds for New Zealand’s burgeoning prison population shows it is “deadly serious” about cracking down on methamphetamine and violent crime, Corrections Minister Judith Collins says.

Collins announced the plans for another 1800 beds around the country, saying that although levels of crime had reduced, the number of prisoners had increased “faster than projected”.

Government claims crime is reducing and reoffending rates have reduced by 7% so is this all due to longer sentences? Or what?

Prime Minister John Key said the higher prisoner numbers reflected the changing nature of crime, with the overall crime rate falling but violent and drug-related crimes on the rise.

“It’s a bit of an international trend: you saw overall crime rates falling internationally for a while and we were consistent with that, and they continue to fall in total numbers, but as I say, that hardened end [is] definitely going up a bit.”

Fewer crimes but more serious crimes, so longer sentences.

NZ Herald puts the cost at $2.5 billion – Tax cuts could be affected by $2.5b plan for more prison beds

The booming prison population will hit the Government’s books by an extra $2.5 billion over about five years – with Finance Minister Bill English saying it will “limit choices” about other spending.

The $1.8 billion surplus announced last week is just for one year.

Asked if the outlay could reduce possible tax cuts, English said, “it will have an impact because it’s a very large spend”.

“I wouldn’t want to judge that because it is a bit early. But certainly spending this kind of money on prison capacity is going to reduce other options.

“This is something that has to be done…we’d certainly prefer to be in a position where this wasn’t happening.”

Not surprisingly there has been a lot of criticism of money having to go into prison beds rather than hospital beds and other comparisons,

Government media release:


The Government has approved plans to increase prison capacity on existing prison sites by approximately 1800 beds, Corrections Minister Judith Collins says.

Despite significant progress in reducing crime the number of prisoners has increased faster than projected. This is because the proportion of offenders charged with serious crimes has risen, meaning more people are being remanded in custody and serving more of their sentences in prison.

“We have to respond through new investment or we will create unacceptable safety risks for staff, prisoners and the public, and be less effective at rehabilitating prisoners.

“We’re already adding 341 prisoner places through the use of double bunking and converting facilities to accommodate prisoner beds. This is part of the financial commitment we made in Budget 2016 to Phase One of the Prison Capacity Programme, but as we look out over the next five years this will not be enough.

“To meet the growth in the prison population we need to invest in a further 1800 prisoner places in the network under Phase Two of the Programme, at a construction cost of around $1 billion.”

The Government has approved an increase in double bunking in the Northland Region Corrections Facility at Ngawha by 80 beds. It has also approved a new accommodation block to be built at Mt Eden Corrections Facility, adding 245 beds.

Ministers will next month consider a detailed business case for formal approval of a new 1500 bed facility at the existing Waikeria Prison in the Waikato. Corrections will also propose increasing the delivery of rehabilitation programmes including Drug Treatment Units, reintegration programmes, education and training programmes and Special Treatment Units to help address violent and sexual offending.

“Phase Two of the prison programme won’t be just in bricks and mortar but will also be aimed at the drivers of crime, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence.”

The new facility at Waikeria Prison will be operated by Corrections but built and maintained by a Public Private Partnership, the same model currently being used by Corrections in building its new maximum security facility in the grounds of Auckland Prison.

“The construction of a new facility for around 1500 prisoners at Waikeria which could be delivered in two stages – would be a significant contribution to ensuring that Corrections can accommodate the forecast numbers of prisoners.”

Most of the forecast demand is expected to come from the upper North Island and Waikeria is in a good location to serve this demand. Being close to the areas of need reduces the costs of operating the prison network and helps keep prisoners close to family and support networks.

The Government is committed to ensuring value for money for taxpayers and all the proposed beds are on prison land where a lot of the infrastructure is already in place.

At Mt Eden Corrections Facility the earthworks platform already exists for the new structure. The current development was built with future expansion a possibility, and at Waikeria Prison there’s ample space for a facility to hold the increased number of prisoners.

“Getting this proposal underway now will help ensure the growth is well planned, and that the prison network can help keep our communities safe in the future.”