Inmates to share cells to cut costs

22:15, Jun 09 2009

Moves to combat increasing prison populations by making inmates share cells will cause overcrowding and will result in assaults, suicides, rapes and escapes spiralling, critics warn.

The prison system will be boosted by more than $385 million over the next four years, with $145m being used to double- bunk cells at five of the country's prisons by 2011.

Inmate numbers have grown from about 5000 in 1996 to about 8300 at present, and are forecast to reach 12,500 by 2018.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins said the money - which would create 1000 more prison beds - would allow the Corrections Department to keep pace with a rising prison muster.

More money would also be spent recruiting guards.

Corrections Association president Beven Hanlon said he understood the Government could not afford to spend $1 billion on new prisons.

Advertisement

However, double-bunking would mean overcrowding, he said. "You're talking about a cell the size of a toilet that a person has to stay in up to 14 hours a day. Now there will be two people staying in there. I just hope they get on."

Mr Hanlon said overcrowding in prisons overseas had always shown a dramatic increase in assaults, suicides, rapes and escapes, and increased psychopathic behaviour among inmates. "What worries me is there's nothing to address the health and safety of prison officers."

The Budget also saw the Government fulfil its election promise of 600 new police by 2011, with 300 frontline officers to go to the troubled streets of South Auckland by the end of next year. Almost $256m will be injected into the probation service after a scathing auditor-general's report that put Corrections boss Barry Matthews' job on the line.

The report into 100 parole cases, including 52 high-risk offenders, found that in most cases Corrections had not followed its own procedures, and the Community Probation and Psychological Services had a shortage of probation officers.

Ms Collins said the Government had inherited a probation service "under extreme stress" and the allotted money would help relieve it.

The cash would allow the probation and psychological services to hire more than 170 extra probation officers, managers and psychologists to help manage almost 100,000 sentences a year, she said.

There would also be additional monitoring of sex offenders in the community.

THE NUMBERS

* $385.4 million for the prison system, which will see double-bunking introduced from next year to five prisons.

* 600 more police on the street by the end of 2011 - with 300 going to the troubled streets of South Auckland by 2010 and the rest being spread across the country.

* An extra $255.9m will be injected into the probation service over the next four years for more staff.

The Dominion Post