TV screens encased in secure enclosures, a sensory garden with native plants and rock water feature, indoor basketball court, computers, industry training area and kiosks for ordering birthday cards are features at the new $300 million Auckland Prison.

A tour of the new jail at Paremoremo, opened this morning by Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis and Corrections chief executive Ray Smith, showed off features of the facility for 681 prisoners in New Zealand's only maximum security men's jail.

Free-to-air television channels will be available in most cells, along with two internal Corrections' channels showing documentaries which include yoga instruction, staff said today.

A new "sensory garden" has been built with paved footpaths, a walled garden of mainly native plants, decorative art panels on a bright blue wall, an artificial turf mound and two rock features, one with water flowing from its centre.

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Corrections staff said that was the first garden of its type in a New Zealand jail and would give prisoners a space where they could sit quietly, reflect, think or talk but mostly have contact with a more natural environment.

The basketball court is in a secure internal area with fixed, wall-mounted exercise equipment.

David Grear, industries manager, said computers were important and he cited literacy, driver licence and educational programmes.

"Getting them used to using computers is important because most jobs in the real world use computers," Grear said.

A kiosk in a day room, activated via fingerprint technology, enables prisoners to buy personal items, including drinks and birthday cards.

But most important, Corrections says the "functional" layout and design of the new site will change the maximum security scene, with "dual secure separated corridors and remote electronic control of housing and prisoner movements.

These design features will allow prisoners to access services with less need for prisoners to be escorted off their unit. This will enable the prison to be operated more safely and efficiently."

Cell sizes will rise from 5.8sq m in the Delta Unit of the old Auckland East prison and 8.5sq m in a standard Auckland South Corrections cell to 9sq m in the new buildings. All the cells are for single occupancy.

Construction of Conservation Department pest traps and other goods will take place in this industries room.
Construction of Conservation Department pest traps and other goods will take place in this industries room.

Asked to respond to the view that prisoners got too much, Smith said: "If you just take things off people, you leave them with nothing to lose."

Four new buildings are linked to a central services building by secure internal walkways.

"Existing units 1 to 5 are linked to central services via secure walkways and lower security units 6, 8 and 9 share some of the facility's core services," Corrections said.

Andy Langley, Auckland Prison director, said maximum security inmates would spend around 19 to 20 hours a day in cells.

But the new prison had a strong emphasis on rehabilitation including industry training, treatment and education, with programmes aimed to prevent re-offending, he said.

One workroom is for joinery and other trades and prisoners in the old building already build pest traps for the Department of Conservation.

Their work is on display at the main entry building to the new site, closer to Paremoremo Rd than the old prison.

Corrections said more than 90 per cent of prisoners had a lifetime diagnosis of mental health or substance abuse issues. The new prison had a health unit for more efficient treatment on the site.

Each unit also has health services areas for daily health needs including doctors' visits.

"This reduces the need for prisoner movements around the facility or to external providers, which increases safety," Corrections said.

Smith said today: "As New Zealand's only specialist maximum security facility for male prisoners, staff at Auckland Prison manage our country's most complex, volatile and dangerous people. I want them to be working in the safest environment possible.

"The old maximum security prison was built 50 years ago, and was designed for a very different time and purpose. Technology has changed, as has the way we deliver rehabilitation and support to prisoners with mental health issues. The old units were well past their use-by date and not fit-for purpose.

"Safety and security have been the top priority in this redevelopment. We now have a modern facility that will ensure significantly safer, better conditions for staff, prisoners and visitors," Smith said.

And, unlike the old building, cells in the new building have toilets, showers and exterior windows for natural light. Bars are no longer vertical but horizontal.