Pacific Islanders make up half our foreign prisoners

Hundreds  of foreign citizens are being held in prisons across New Zealand, with an overwhelming majority hailing from the Pacific.

Figures provided by the Department of Corrections show there are 297 prisoners who identify as foreigners, with Spring Hill prison in Waikato having the largest spread of nationalities.

Despite 47 countries being represented on the list, a quarter of foreign prisoners are Samoan, and more than half are Pacific Islanders. Aside from the Pacific, the United Kingdom has 19 citizens in prison, and there are 19 Australians, 15 Chinese and 13 Malaysians.

The latest prison population figures show there are 8474 prisoners in New Zealand, meaning 3.5 per cent are foreigners. It costs almost $100,000 a year to lock up the average male prisoner, while female prisoner costs are substantially higher.

Rethinking Crime & Punishment spokesman Kim Workman said he was unsurprised by the figures and said that, although there was a high imprisonment rate for young Samoans, they did not tend to reoffend as they became older.

For prisoners who held different cultural or religious beliefs, imprisonment in New Zealand could be difficult, as their needs were not always able to be met.

Language barriers could be a problem, as well as special diets, such as halal food for Muslims.

"They have to learn to live within the prevailing culture really. Some prisons will make an effort, while others won't do anything."

A Corrections Department spokeswoman said the Corrections Act required every effort be made to support a prisoner's religious beliefs.

Except in some circumstances, offenders were allowed to have approved religious items such as head coverings, prayer beads and religious images in their cells.

The department worked with the Prison Chaplaincy Service of Aotearoa New Zealand to co-ordinate and deliver spiritual services for prisoners, she said.

Figures provided by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment show that, in the past five years, 478 prisoners have been deported immediately after their release.

The highest number of deportations was to China, with 80, followed by Samoa on 75.

When prisoners facing deportation are freed, Immigration New Zealand organises a ticket home and sometimes the prisoners are escorted by police until they physically leave the country. An escort is provided for the flight home where appropriate.

Interpol New Zealand notifies its overseas counterpart to receive the person, and sends a full criminal history of each prisoner, including photo and fingerprints.

When it comes to New Zealanders imprisoned overseas, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was unable to provide current details, but last year listed 90 being held in 26 countries.

Of those, 32 were in the United States, including 12 charged with immigration breaches and two with murder.

The Dominion Post