Thousands see old jail off

BEHIND BARS: David Blake working in Wellington Prison's printing room where, brochures for public and private companies are printed using prison labour.
BEHIND BARS: David Blake working in Wellington Prison's printing room where, brochures for public and private companies are printed using prison labour.
The entrance to Mt Crawford Prison.
The entrance to Mt Crawford Prison.
The hallway of the prison's Unit One, where high-risk prisoners were kept.
The hallway of the prison's Unit One, where high-risk prisoners were kept.
A typical cell in Mt Crawford's Unit One.
A typical cell in Mt Crawford's Unit One.
Mt Crawford Prison's Unit Two South.
Mt Crawford Prison's Unit Two South.
The prison's chapel.
The prison's chapel.
The spot where executions took place in the 1930s. Bodies were taken through the small door.
The spot where executions took place in the 1930s. Bodies were taken through the small door.
The prison kitchen.
The prison kitchen.
The covered exercise yard at the prison. The murals were painted by the prisoners themselves.
The covered exercise yard at the prison. The murals were painted by the prisoners themselves.
Mt Crawford Prison movement co-ordinator Philip Lester at the prison.
Mt Crawford Prison movement co-ordinator Philip Lester at the prison.

Thousands have turned up for a rare chance to explore Wellington Prison before it closes its cell doors for good.

The Corrections Department has opened the doors on the 85-year-old jail before it closes down permanently at the end of the month.

Thousands of Wellingtonians have already passed inside the wire today to get a look at the macabre and historic features of one New Zealand's oldest and most notorious prisons.

The prison was labelled a disgrace last year by Corrections Minister at the time Judith Collins. She said prison officers did "their very best in very difficult, Dickensian situations".

Thousands have flocked to the closing Mt Crawford Prison for its open day today.
Thousands have flocked to the closing Mt Crawford Prison for its open day today.

It was opened in 1927 and four convicted murderers were hanged by the state on portable gallows which were erected in the corner of the prison in the 1930s.

Located on some of the city's most covetable land atop the Mt Crawford Peninsula, the prison had a capital value of $6.9 million in 2009.

Corrections Services' lower north regional manager Karen Petrie said the facility was a good example of an early 20th century prison.

''When it was built in 1927 it was considered a progressive facility for its time. However, New Zealand has moved on considerably since then and today the prison is not up to the standard of a modern Corrections facility and no longer meets our needs.''

With all prisoners now relocated to other facilities throughout the country, the prison's cell blocks are open for visitors to see how they ate, showered and slept.

Visitors can also see the print shop, which has been an important part of Wellington Prison and remains an important rehabilitation industry for Corrections, enabling prisoners to gain valuable skills and experience that help them find work once they are released back into the community.

"There's a lot to see and take in during the open day, and Corrections staff will be on hand to answer any questions people have," Petrie said.

"It's also an opportunity for anyone who's interested in joining Corrections, either as a Corrections officer, nurse or psychologist, to talk with our recruitment team."

Entry to the open day is by gold coin donation, with funds going to charities selected by Wellington Prison staff, including Night Shelter, Women's Refuge, Victim Support and the Salvation Army. It is open to the public from 10am to 3pm.

Related story: A glimpse inside Mt Crawford Prison

The Dominion Post