The spectre of double bunking 130 prison cells spurred both sides of the crime and punishment debate yesterday.

Corrections boss Ray Smith flagged it as an option to accommodate an unexpected blow-out in the prison population.

Rejecting any sound correlation between the practice and increased violence, he said: "If you do it well, it's fine."

Corrections Association of New Zealand president Alan Whitley disagreed. "We call it overcrowding." He claimed it rendered prisoners "tetchy" and piled pressure on staff.
Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar supported the move, citing taxpayer benefits and a welcome departure from current "hotel-like" prisons.

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'Tis a tad ironic, given it's solitary confinement that's historically been viewed as punitive. Rich too, perhaps, after yesterday's news that students at Victoria University hostels are complaining that they've unknowingly signed up to bunk rooms; if it's okay for our fee paying, law-abiding students, what right do tax-fed criminals have to complain?

Still, seems the only ones advocating for double bunking live and work outside the wire. Whether prisoners are "entitled" to their own cell misses the point, because of course they're not. But the debate's not about civil liberties.

Everyone wants to see inmates be given the optimal conditions to exit prison as functional human beings - preferably with less reliance on public money.

Corrections, under fiscal pressure due to an unforseen wave, may well have the same goal. But one wonders whether upping the collective cabin fever may, in fact, tax us more.