Free content by Fresh Content.net

Tuesday, September 22

NZ prisoner numbers highest ever

The number of prisoners behind bars in New Zealand is at its highest level ever, and underlines the urgent need to create extra prison capacity, Corrections Minister Judith Collins said today.

At Monday unlock this week - where prisoners throughout the country are counted - there were 8509 people in prisons or police stations, which is 16 prisoners more than the previous peak of 8493 prisoners on 7 September 2009.

"We now have more prisoners behind bars than at any other time in New Zealand's history," Ms Collins said.

"This underlines the urgent need to ensure there are enough beds to accommodate forecast numbers of prisoners.

"Due to a lack of planning by the last government, our prison system will run out of baseline beds around February next year.

"We cannot have the situation where the safety of the public is put at risk by prisoners being kept in prison vans, in cells at courts or police stations, or being released into the community."

In 1996/97 the average prison population was around 5,000. It is now over 8,400 and is forecast to continue increasing.

The Government has asked the Department of Corrections to speed up the process of adding additional modular or container cells to prisons. In August the Department of Corrections announced it would build a 60-bed container cell block at Rimutaka prison.

"However, that alone will not be enough and double bunking will also be necessary to manage this serious capacity crisis. Double bunking is the fastest way to add extra capacity," Ms Collins says.

Medium-term capacity will be met by extending existing prisons. Longer-term capacity needs may require a new prison - most likely in Wiri, South Auckland.