Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Inside NZ's new generation prison

John Holyoake says the environment at Wiri will see inmates supported and respected. Photo / Richard Robinson
John Holyoake says the environment at Wiri will see inmates supported and respected. Photo / Richard Robinson

Inmates moving through the country's new $300 million prison will be able to track their path to freedom.

As they get closer to the main gatehouse, they are nearing their release date.

The jail, which covers 17ha at Wiri in the southwest of Auckland, is laid out according to the prisoner's journey.

Factors deciding where they are on the site include the seriousness of offending, length of sentence, level of risk and behaviour within the walls.

"The design mirrors your own personal journey," says John Holyoake, transition director from private British-owned corrections operator Serco New Zealand.

"So the highest level of security is farthermost from the exit. The concept of punishment has been removed. Instead, this is about rehabilitation and reintegration."

Medium-security prisoners will be in one of three big double-storey X-shaped "house blocks", with a control station in the centre.

View the prison design here.

Those deemed a lower security risk and perhaps nearing the end of their terms will gradually shift into "residences" from which they might leave to work in jobs outside the corrections facility.

Inmates will have computers in their cells, with streams of viewing available: free-to-air television channels and educational information, designed to enhance their vocations or careers once they are out, Holyoake says.

At allegations of comfort, Holyoake quips: "It will be an environment where people feel supported and respected."

Madeleine Rose of the Howard League for Penal Reform says New Zealand should not be building new prisons because once up, they are filled.

However, she indicated some support for models like Wiri.

"Independent living units, or self-care units, are to be encouraged," she said, because that provides a more progressive environment where prisoners can look after themselves, and build skills in cooking, budgeting, self-care and living with others.

"Prisoners within such units may also have the ability to participate in 'work for release' schemes, where they undertake work for employers outside the prison gates. These schemes are shown to be successful in developing new skills building a strong work ethic, and facilitating positive social interactions between the prisoner and the community," she said. "In doing so, these schemes as well as the independent units, provide a rehabilitative opportunity that can assist the prisoner to lead a positive life on release."

But overall, the league wants nothing like Wiri, calling instead for a steady reduction in jailed numbers.

Those involved in Wiri says it breaks the mould in terms of new prisons because it is a public-private partnership (PPP) between the Department of Corrections and SecureFuture comprising builder Fletcher Construction, maintenance specialist Spotless and operator Serco New Zealand with a 25-year contract. Buildings are designed by architects Mode Design of Australia and Peddle Thorp, working with Beca and SKM.

A Serco spokeswoman said Wiri was the country's first public private corrections development and the single largest PPP, far bigger than two new Hobsonville schools.

The new facility was needed, she said "so the Department of Corrections can manage capacity in Auckland. At present, prisoners from the Auckland area are housed in facilities outside the city which in turn displaces prisoners from their home regions to other areas. It's important that prisoners remain in the area they come from so they can stay close to family and whanau".

Donal Lynch, Fletcher's project manager, said the Wiri job was different to most commercial jobs because materials and construction techniques had to create far more secure, durable and robust structures.

Serco already operates Mt Eden Corrections Facility and will double its presence here in 2015 with the completion of Wiri, which is adjacent to the Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility.

Cages or wire walkways are rejected for Wiri's more open campus-style facility.

The perimeter fence is steel mesh in parts with pre-cast concrete panels where visual or acoustic barriers are needed to separate the men's from the women's facilities.

Double-bunk and single-bunk rooms in the three more secure house blocks at the men's prison are 8.6sq m in size.

"This will be the world's best new prison," says Holyoake.

Near the gatehouse, things are quite different at the cluster of low-security residences.

"Up to 24 prisoners will live in each of the residences, two levels high, almost like a motel unit. They will have their own bedrooms and a budget to buy their food and some people will be learning social skills they never had. Some of the people in here will be working on the outside too," Holyoake said.

A video "fly-through" emphasises the more innovative layout: "The facility is organised around a strong cultural heart that connects and links to a circulation spine that organises the main cluster of prison buildings."

- NZ Herald

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