• Nick Smith

Corrections Minister, Nick Smith, today announced that three new prisons will be built in the Northland and Auckland regions over the next three years including a new facility at Mt Eden.

"The Government is having to invest in additional prisons to cope with the growth in offenders being sentenced by the courts. The decision about where to site new prisons has been based on trying to accommodate inmates as close as possible to their home communities so contact with families or other support networks are maintained. Research shows that where these contacts can be maintained, re-offending rates are reduced," said Dr Smith.

"Currently the Department of Corrections has the capacity for 5000 inmates but projections show that by the year 2000, room for 5800 inmates will be required and by 2005 room for 6000 inmates. Additional capacity will be achieved through both expansion of existing prisons as well as new prisons.

"Northland and Auckland are the priority areas because so many offenders are being held in institutions outside their region. Currently there are over 600 Auckland inmates and 250 Northland inmates being held further south - some as far as Wanganui and Christchurch. Other regions under consideration for new prisons were - Bay of Plenty, Dunedin and Nelson. On the basis of projected inmate numbers from these regions, the distance to existing institutions and the difficulty of obtaining resource consents, these areas have been given a lower priority but may be required next decade.

"The new remand facility at Mt Eden prison will be built adjacent to the old prison. It will house 250 remand inmates and up to 25 disturbed and vulnerable sentenced inmates in a purpose built special needs unit. It is estimated to cost $40 million to build and is expected to be completed in the first few months of 2000.

"This new remand prison will be safer for both staff, the public and inmates. Being of modern construction, it will be more secure and will also be more difficult to smuggle things like drugs and weapons into. It will be a lot more safe and humane for inmates. The facility will also be more efficient and less costly to the taxpayer.

"I know there are those that want to close old Mt Eden. The reality is that the number of inmates from the Auckland region, and the huge difficulty in obtaining resource consents makes this unlikely in the near future. A remand prison in central Auckland will be required for close proximity to the courts well into the future. In the long term, the Department would want to decommission the old prison, but this will only be possible if other accommodation can be built in Auckland for sentenced inmates.

"It is a sad commentary on the levels of criminal offending that we have to spend so much on constructing new prisons. The investment is necessary if we are to protect the public and maintain the integrity of the criminal justice system. However, the bigger challenge is to find alternatives to prison and focus on the addressing the underlying causes of criminal re-offending," said Dr Smith.

Dr Smith said that he was committed to developing alternatives to prisons including habilitation centres and home detention. He also said he was committed to a modern prison service that did more than just incarcerate inmates, but put far more focus on reducing re-offending. An exciting new development in this regard will be announced in next week's Budget.