'Disgraceful' prison open to public

CLIO FRANCIS
Last updated 10:19 23/11/2012

Wellington Prison

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Those with an interest in macabre local history have a rare opportunity to visit Wellington Prison this weekend - and they can even take the kids.

The Department of Corrections is holding an open day at the 85-year-old jail tomorrow before it closes at the end of the month.

In June last year then-Corrections Minister Judith Collins called the prison a disgrace. She said prison officers did "their very best in very difficult, Dickensian situations".

The prison - which is located on some of the city's most covetable land atop the Mt Crawford Peninsula - had a capital value of $6.9 million in 2009.

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.

Karen Petrie, Corrections Services' Lower North Regional Manager 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.''

During the open day, visitors will be able to take a self-guided tour of the prison, starting with the control room and then the receiving office, where newly-arrived prisoners were photographed and their details checked, before moving on through the prison.

The prison's cell blocks will be open for visitors to see how prisoners ate, slept and showered.

Visitors will also be able to 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 will be open to the public from 10am to 3pm on Saturday.

All prisoners will have been relocated to other prisons ahead of the open day.

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