AT HAWKE'S Bay Prison, a gymnasium, initially designed to be a unit for prisoners, will be renovated to fit in an extra 60 men. In addition, a whole new unit will likely be built at Arohata Women's Jail near Wellington as the total number of female prisoners edges above 600.
Waikeria Prison's "Top Jail", which had been ruled unfit, will probably stay open. The unit, supposed to be closed, has been partly renovated and 126 prisoners will be kept there.
All of this is the result of burgeoning prisoner numbers. The Department of Corrections expects the total to reach 10,000 by 2017.
This will be a record nobody wants to see. At a cost of $100,000 per prisoner per year, this will make prisons a new billion-dollar New Zealand industry. Bugger!
This sad state of affairs is happening despite successive Corrections ministers endorsing a strategy of reducing reoffending and the Corrections Department enthusiastically adopting that outcome.
Regrettably, this enlightened and successful tactic has been stymied by harder bail and parole rules, the three-strikes legislation and the flow of deportees from Australia.
It's easy to get depressed at this apparent failure but some initiatives in this space do succeed.
In the next while, Government ministers will need to make a decision on the future of the two specialist alcohol and drug courts established three-and-a-half years ago as an experimental alternative to a jail sentence for offenders whose crimes are driven by addiction to alcohol and drugs.
The official title of these two courts, one in Henderson and one in Auckland City, is the Alcohol and Drug Treatment Court (AODTC) and the idea is that offenders choose abstinence (which is closely monitored) instead of a jail sentence.
This initiative closely parallels developments in California, although the first-ever such court dates back to 1989 in Florida. The Americans obviously regard these courts as a success, as evidenced by the fact that all 50 states now have AODTCs and a total of more than 3000 are now in operation.
A couple of years ago, I spent a day at the Henderson AODT court. It was absorbing. The morning was spent with Judge Lisa Tremewan, representatives of offenders (lawyers), police, social workers and probation people.
Each candidate's status was evaluated and the results of the high-tech monitoring programme were reviewed.
One, I recall, had a positive finding for alcohol but this was explained by an alcohol-based disinfectant handcream he'd used at work.
In the afternoon, the participants fronted up and each were given "progress reports". All I saw were positive about their choice of the court over a jail sentence and most were at that point, holding down jobs. These offenders had opted to come under the supervision of the AODTC and the average jail sentence they'd swapped for monitored abstinence would have been 18 months.
After more than three years, the Henderson Court has 86 "graduates". These are offenders whose behaviour over a year-and-a-half has resulted in their release from the process.
If these AODTC participants had served their likely full sentences, the cost to the taxpayer would have touched $13 million. Even if they'd served only half of their sentences, the cost saving to us would have been $6 million plus.
With this level of financial achievement, it's hard to see ministers doing anything but incorporating these now experimental courts into the justice system long-term.
Justice Minister Amy Adams recently made the following statement: "The investment approach to justice which I launched recently is designed to ensure that investments made by justice sector agencies on preventative activities is focused on achieving the biggest impact, through a combination of data analytics, research and application of findings."
This approach should surely guarantee the ongoing contribution the AODT courts make to the justice landscape.
My own Howard League would welcome the "data analytics" approach to its Hawke's Bay Unlicensed Drivers Initiative, which swerved more than 100 mainly young offenders off the path to a jail sentence in 2015.
The programme is doing even better this year in Hawke's Bay and we are on the way to duplicating the programme in West Auckland.
The following is a report of Corrections CEO Ray Smith speaking to a Parliamentary committee: "Mr Smith said a large proportion of people who turned up in reoffending statistics had driving-related offences.
"If they were helped to get their licence, many of them would never find themselves in trouble with the law again. You just have to wonder whether so many young people really had to be tied up in the system if you could just get them a driver's licence."
Ray Smith is one of the most talented and successful public servants of his generation. We should pay close attention.
-Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.