Prison adds 100 new beds

By Doug Laing -
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Capacity at Hawke's Bay Prison is being increased by 100 beds as New Zealand tries to house a record national muster likely to hit 10,000 inmates by the end of the year.

The jail's growth was confirmed yesterday by Corrections Department deputy national commissioner Rachel Leota in a statement to Hawke's Bay Today.

She said a staff gymnasium is being relocated and the building reconfigured to add 60 beds, and increased "double-bunking" adds 40 beds, an increase in capacity of over 11 per cent to almost 800 inmates.

We are continuing to look at other options to ensure we can accommodate any future increase in prisoner numbers.
Rachel Leota, Corrections Department deputy national commissioner

But staff union representative and Corrections Association industrial officer Bevan Hanlon, who was involved in department-staff consultation leading to recruiting of more staff and other conditions to enable the moves, believes that prisons are a "growth industry" and land available on the site south-west of Hastings means there will be further expansion.

The national muster passed 9000 for the first time last August, and passed 9600 for the first time at the end of June.

Yesterday Hawke's Bay had 616 inmates in a nationwide prison population of 9562, compared with 564 at the prison on July 22 last year, when the national muster was 8683.

Ms Leota said Corrections has worked with unions to explore options that will increase capacity to help meet the demand.

Capacity is also being increased at Whanganui Prison, Christchurch Men's Prison, women's jailhouse Arohata, near Wellington, and New Plymouth Remand Centre, overall adding 271 beds by the end of December.

"Security, staff safety and prisoner welfare has been a central consideration for Corrections and Unions," she said.

"To support the increase in bed numbers, new staff will be recruited and trained to ensure the staff to prisoner ratio is maintained."

Aware of the longer-term possibilities, Ms Leota said: "These additional beds will meet immediate demand.

"We are continuing to look at other options to ensure we can accommodate any future increase in prisoner numbers.

"We are experienced in managing a fluctuating prisoner population, and we're confident we can implement practical solutions to address the immediate and long-term capacity demands."

A spokesman said: "Prisoner numbers are dependent on factors outside Corrections' control, including legislative changes, judicial decisions, policing trends and crime levels.

"The current increase is due to more people being held in prison on remand than was forecast.

"Legislative changes have also meant prisoners serve more of their sentence in prison, and there has been an increase in people serving longer sentences for more serious crimes."

Mr Hanlon there are spaces at Hawke's Bay Prison which will soon have up to 14 inmates each, when they were originally designed for eight.

Mr Hanlon said among agreements is the employment of an extra 28 Corrections officers, and pepper-spray will be carried by officers to subdue troublesome inmates.

"There are jobs at Hawke's Bay Prison," he said.

Howard League for Penal Reform CEO and former Labour Party president Mike Williams wrote in Hawke's Bay Today on Saturday that the increasing number of inmates, at a $100,000 cost per prisoner, will make the jails a "billion-dollar" business, which he said was a "sad state of affairs" happening in spite of successive Corrections ministers endorsing a strategy of reducing reoffending.

It was stymied by harder bail and parole rules and a flow-on effect of deportation Kiwi convicts from Australia, he said.

Hawke's Bay Prison opened in 1989 but was soon in trouble amid a nationwide explosion in the prison population, culminating in the Logan Inquiry in 1993, making more than 60 recommendations on the future operation of the institution.

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