Prison closures would hit the communities they're in but are necessary to rehabilitate prisoners, says Corrections Minister Anne Tolley.

Wellington and New Plymouth prisons are set to close, along with units at Arohata, Rolleston, Tongariro/Rangipo and Waikeria, The Department of Corrections announced yesterday.

Mrs Tolley admitted today the closures were "not ideal" for affected communities but were necessary because the old prisons didn't suit modern rehabilitation training and education methods.

She said staff and families of prisoners at New Plymouth would be particularly hard-hit because they would have go further for work or to see inmates.


"If we're absolutely clear about increasing rehabilitation and making sure that when we release prisoners back into the community they're not going to reoffend again, which half of them do, we've got to have prisons that enable us to do that," she told Newstalk ZB.

The proposed closures are among a raft of changes announced yestgerday that also include raising the standards of remaining prisons, improving staff working conditions and increasing public safety.

Auckland Prison's East Division, which houses prisoners in maximum security, and Invercargill Prison's West Wing would be refurbished.

Most staff at prisons being closed would be transferred to other roles and every attempt would be made to keep inmates in prisons close to their families, Corrections chief executive Ray Smith said.

The proposals follow visits by Mr Smith to all 19 prisons in the last year. Problems he found included bad lighting, a lack of toilet facilities, no provision for disabled access, exposed pipes and inadequate staff facilities.

Consultation with staff began yesterday.