Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis advised Cabinet to adopt the previous Government's plan to build 1500 beds at Waikeria Prison because it was "the only sensible plan", but his colleagues ignored his advice.
Now communities and prisoners alike will suffer so that the Government can achieve its main objective of not doing anything National came up with.
Official papers released this week show that the Waikeria Prison upgrade is critical to the safety, effectiveness and humanity of our prison system.
The report highlights the extent of prison capacity concerns and declares that "the only sensible plan of action at this point is to maintain course and progress on the Waikeria Corrections and Treatment Facility."
The report describes rehabilitation as the "primary tool" Corrections has to reduce the prison population and the prison upgrade as "an investment in the best practice treatment of prisoners with high and complex needs".
The Government plans to install 976 pop-up beds and the Minister confirmed there would be no rehabilitation funding for these beds.
Corrections is at pains to explain to the Government that the present over-crowded and antiquated Waikeria prison makes rehabilitation near impossible.
The facilities are not designed for it and there are too many prisoners to make meaningful
interventions that suit the individual issues and conditions that various prisoners face.
One thousand other beds throughout the country also need replacing.
The proposed upgrade would have significantly improve access to mental health treatment for prisoners.
We already know that the rate of mental health issues in the prison population is disproportionately high: 91 per cent of prisoners in New Zealand have been diagnosed a mental illness. If we help prisoners with mental health concerns, we make it far less likely they will re-offend on release.
The downgraded upgrade has 100 beds for mental health but some existing ones will close at the same time. Many prisoners with significant mental health issues still will miss out on important mental health support and these are the ones who will be then be the most likely to re-offend.
The report also emphasises how crucial the prison is for responding to urgent capacity concerns. The prison system is currently 1706 beds short and the shortfall will be 3199 in 2021 and 4503 by 2027. The downsized upgrade will not alleviate this problem and the sensible option was to continue with the full upgrade.
Minister Davis had all of this information but his colleagues overruled him and the Government recklessly went ahead with its dangerous plan to downsize the Waikeria
Prison build by 1000 beds. The Government instead plans justice reform but it has no information about what these will look like nor any numbers showing the effect on the prison population.
There is no time to wait. The Government is putting the safety of communities, prison officers and prisoners on the line. It must now explain to New Zealanders how it is going to pick and choose which of these criminals it will allow out into our communities because it refused to implement the only sensible plan.