Women prisoners cost much more to lock up

Female prisoners have added a new meaning to the term "high maintenance", with women inmates costing 50 per cent more to keep in jail than men.

Women behind bars are more expensive than even the most dangerous offenders in maximum security, with their daily cost to the country rising by $150 in the past five years.

Figures released by the Department of Corrections under the Official Information Act show that the average cost of housing a female prisoner, each day, during the 2010-11 financial year was $372, up from $193 in 2005-06. That equates to about $135,000 a year.

In comparison, the average cost for a male prisoner was $248 a day. Men kept in maximum security cost $325 a day.

Female prisoners are calculated at a standard cost, regardless of their security classification. There were 500 women in jail at the end of 2011, compared to 7934 men.

Department of Corrections general manger of finance, systems and infrastructure Mike Martelli said the higher cost for women was due to gender segregation. All of the capital costs associated with the running and maintenance of the facilitates were included in calculating the costs of each prisoner.

"As the numbers of women prisoners are substantially less than that of males, women prisoners draw a larger proportion of capital costs than male prisoners," Martelli said.

There are only three prisons managed solely for women – in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, while there are 16 for men.

Corrections Association president Bevan Hanlon said the cost of keeping female prisoners would always be higher.

Ideally, Corrections would like to have just one prison for women in New Zealand but it was impractical, he said.

"It's important with women to keep those family connections so you need facilities around the country – in most cases women are the primary caregiver and that connection can help to get them out of prison and stop reoffending."

He said a little known fact was that women had higher rates of assaults on Corrections officers, so any extra staffing or security measures for female inmates was well-supported by the association.

In 2005-06, the average cost per female prisoner per day was $193. The cost had increased due to capital investment needed to build additional facilities and upgrade current facilities, Martelli said.

These included a revamp of units where mothers could look after their babies – up to age two – at both the Christchurch Women's Prison and the Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility, which cost $2.16 million.

There is currently no maximum security prison for women.

Paremoremo, in Auckland, is the only maximum security facility for men. Prisoners there are guarded by more staff, especially when escorted outside the prison, when at least three guards must be present.

This contributes to the higher cost of maximum security inmates.

BY THE NUMBERS

Average daily cost of keeping a prisoner:

2010-11 Female $372 Male $248

2005-06 Female $193 Male$189

Female prisoners 500 Male prisoners 7934

Cost of a single female prisoner per year $135,000

Average New Zealand wage $41,600

Sunday Star Times