Graduate system to feature in prison

PRISON CAMPUS:  An artist’s impression of how the final prison will be laid out.
PRISON CAMPUS: An artist’s impression of how the final prison will be laid out.

Campus-style living is what's in store for tomorrow's law breakers.

The Manukau Courier has been given an exclusive tour of the new high security men's prison under construction at Wiri.

The project is a public-private partnership between the government and several major companies. It is being built by Fletcher Construction and will be run by private operator Serco.

LOCKUP:  An artist’s impression of the inside of one of the four wings on a house block.
LOCKUP: An artist’s impression of the inside of one of the four wings on a house block.

Once finished it will bring new meaning to the "criminal training ground" image New Zealand's prisons have, Serco says.

The facility's 960 prisoners will live in an open campus-style facility under Serco's responsible prisoner model.

Inmates will be given an education and the life skills they need to get work and become responsible members of society, Serco's communications manager Jane Palmer says.

Many inmates enter prison illiterate and innumerate and need help to get on a proper pathway in life, she says.

"So that is about upskilling them with basic reading, writing and maths and giving them a trade."

The prison will have facilities to support educational programmes including a wharekura (school), sports hall and a health education building.

In the industry buildings, laundry and kitchens prisoners will learn trades and have the option of paid work.

Once they reach a certain stage there is also the chance of day release employment and once they "graduate" employment opportunities when they leave.

Each prison cell will have basic computer access so inmates can continue their studies when they are locked down for the night.

They will also be able to book in visiting times, doctor and dental appointments and order food once they have moved into a residence with cooking facilities.

Construction is well under way, thanks to the summer's hot dry conditions, project manager Donal Lynch says.

The bulk of the earthworks and movement of material on site will be finished by the end of this month and building work has started, he says.

The early construction focus has been on prisoner housing because of its sheer size and the prison gate house.

The gate house is the critical main centre of the site with the rest of the prison tied into its control centre.

The prison is designed so that once inmates are processed through the gate house they begin their journey with the goal of passing back out its doors.

Their first home will be House Block 1 which is furthest from the gate.

Inmates will then graduate through good behaviour on to house blocks 2 and 3 before a final move into 10 two-up, two-down flats closest to the gates.

"It is trying to get people to move through this process of getting to the residents flats which is moving towards the the exit," Mr Donal says.

Prisoners are rewarded with more comfortable living spaces as they move from building to building.

"If you misbehave you lose privileges and potentially you are back down the order again."

Once in the flats prisoners will live in a flatting situation, Ms Palmer says.

"They'll get a budget and have to buy their own food, they have to plan their meals and they have to learn how to just live with people, negotiating what to watch on TV and people playing their music too loud, just all those normal things.

"For many people they'll get those life skills that they just never learned."

At the end of the day the campus facility is still a prison but the focus is "normalising" prisoners back into the community, she says.

"Because it is about saying to people ‘no, we are not going to treat you as a prisoner'. It's about saying - ‘you are here doing your time but while you are here we are putting you on a pathway so that you will leave and be a better person'."

Manukau Courier