Smaller Waikeria prison upgrade plus mental health facility

The Government has announced that it will build a far smaller (500 bed) replacement high security prison at Waikeria than what the previous Government had proposed, plus a special purpose 100 bed mental health facility.

The only problem with the later may be that it is too small.

With the former being substantially scaled down there will be increased pressure on the Government on how to deal with the quickly expanding prison population.

Media statement from Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis:


• 500 bed high security prison to be constructed at Waikeria

• First-of-its-kind 100 bed mental health facility

• Completion due by early 2022

The Government will build a world-leading high security replacement prison at Waikeria, setting a new direction for Corrections in New Zealand while ditching the American-style mega prison planned by the previous National Government, Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis announced today.

The prison will include a first-of-its-kind in New Zealand mental health facility to address the high rate of mental health issues prevalent in the prison population.

“Today sets a new direction for prisons in New Zealand, putting public safety first while delivering real rehabilitation and mental health support to reduce reoffending,” said Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis at the site of the new prison at Waikeria.

The new high-security prison, to be delivered by early 2022, will accommodate 500 prisoners, with the ability to provide mental health treatment for a further 100 offenders.

“New Zealand is safer when the most violent offenders are locked away, but prison is also a place where offenders should be rehabilitated, not trained by other prisoners to become more hardened criminals.

“This strikes the right balance between showing hardened criminals the consequences of their actions, and providing a new facility that can work to rehabilitate prisoners and reduce our appalling rate of re-offending.

“The new mental health facility will service urgent need within our prison system. 62 per cent of prisoners have been diagnosed with a mental health or substance abuse disorder in the last twelve months. We currently do very little to help turn these people’s lives around.

“National’s plan to build a mega prison for up to 2,000 prisoners at Waikeria was a clear sign it had given up. They are expensive and ineffective, becoming super-sized factories that just turn low level criminals into hardened criminals.

“This will be one of New Zealand’s smallest prisons. We know smaller prisons make rehabilitation more likely, are closer to communities and link better to local work programmes.

“Prisons shouldn’t be resorts and offenders must face consequences, but we can’t expect prisoners to turn their lives around and walk out the doors ready to be better people if we lock them away in a breeding ground for crime.

“Today’s decision draws a line under New Zealand’s failed prison policy and sets us on a new path towards better prisons, that make our communities safer,” said Kelvin Davis.

http://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/1806/Waikeria_speech_Kelvin_Davis.docx

http://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/1806/Waikeria_FAQs.docx


Odd that this was available via Scoop but not from the Beehive website.

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.

Waikeria prison decision deferred again

Some work has started on a controversial new prison at Waikeria, but no announcement has yet been made on what is being built.

On 29 March (Stuff) Andrew Little confirms decision on Waikeria within two weeks

Justice Minister Andrew Little has confirmed a decision will be made regarding the future of Waikeria prison within two weeks.

The Government originally promised to make the decision by the end of March but are pushing the deadline to mid-April.

Mr Little has previously said on Newshub Nation he wants to shift justice policy towards rehabilitation in order to lower prison numbers, saying what he saw when visiting Waikeria Prison “horrified him”.

“You have to ask yourself whether this is a place where someone can go from being bad to being good.”

Mr Little said he remained open to the idea of amending bail laws, which Labour previously supported tightening, but says there was no specific plan in place to change them

The Minister said within two or three months there would be a “high profile summit on criminal justice issues to get public debate going”.

Prison populations are projected to soar to over 12,000 by 2022.

Nearly four weeks later still no announcement but some work has started: Otorohanga still hoping for Waikeria prison expansion

Preparatory work has begun at the Waikeria prison site in the King Country, even though the Government has still not decided if it will go ahead with the expansion.

The Department of Corrections said that despite putting the expansion decision on ice, the Government agreed for Corrections to continue some preparatory work at Waikeria while options were considered.

Last Wednesday, Justice Minister Andrew Little said a decision on the “mega prison” would be made public within the next few weeks.

Another few weeks. The prison poses a dilemma for the Government, who have pledged to slash prison numbers but that will take time, and they are currently faced with having to deal with a growing prison population.

There are important legal considerations, as well as finding the money from a budget under pressure to deliver on election pledges.

Waatea News earlier this month: Waikeria decision sparks letter campaign

Campaign group Action Station says 1300 supporters have written letters to Justice Minister Andrew Little and Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis urging them to stop the new billion-dollar prison in Waikeria.

Action Station director Laura O’Connell Rapira says the community are passionate about supporting efforts to build a more compassionate justice system which prioritises prevention, restoration and rehabilitation, and an end to the over-incarceration of Maori people.

She says while the Government is concerned about the state of prisons and wants to end double-bunking, a new prison will inevitably fail in terms of reducing crime.

But in the short term growing numbers have to be housed.

There may be no real choice but to build a prison at Waikeria, but if plans are to substantially reduce the prison population this would be a good opportunity to take a radical new approach to prisons, especially in relation to the disproportionate number of Māori prisoners.

If it doesn’t work, then it can be scrapped as numbers are reduced, and if it does work well then older traditional prison space can be scrapped.

But there is an indication a different approach is not being considered.

RNZ: Govt yet to pursue idea of separate Māori prison

The Corrections Minister has not looked to advance an idea he pushed while in opposition, to establish a separate Māori prison.

And a decision on whether to build a new $1 billion prison at Waikeria in rural Waikato is still pending – a month after Kelvin Davis said a final decision would be made.

As Labour’s opposition spokesperson, Mr Davis argued prisoner numbers could be reduced through rehabilitation programmes in a prison run on a kaupapa Māori based approach.

In February this year, he said he was not ruling anything in or out, when asked whether he’d be progressing any units or prisons based on a Māori-only model.

Last week, in a response to an official information request, Mr Davis said while he had been looking at strategies to reduce Māori offending, he had received no advice about a separate Māori prison.

He said he was committed to reducing the prison population by 30 percent over the next 15 years and “addressing the issue of Māori over representation” in prisons.

“I am working with staff, non-government and Māori organisations and communities to meet this challenge and make a meaningful change for all prisoners, including Māori,” Mr Davis said in a letter to RNZ.

It seems odd that Davis hasn’t been looking at Māori-only model, or a Māori-focussed model, while a decision is being made about the Waikeria prison expansion.

It could be something to do with this:

Mr Davis floated the idea of a separate Māori prison last year, as a way of reducing the prison population, a proposal shut down by the party’s leader at the time, Andrew Little.

Davis may have ditched his proposal, or it may have been ditched for him.

The Government can’t keep pushing out a new prison decision for ‘a few weeks’. They will probably have to commit funds in the budget in three weeks. We may find out then whether a Waikeria will be just more of the same, or something bold and different.