Call for urgent action on jails

Lack of staff and space spurs fears for safety

Last updated 23:06 16/12/2008

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Up to four more prisons will be needed in the next eight years and there are concerns public safety may be at risk unless more prison staff can be found, Corrections has told the Government.

The department's briefing to Corrections Minister Judith Collins says urgent solutions are needed. Community probation services are already understaffed and struggling, and the prison muster will balloon beyond capacity in the next 18 months.

National's tough-on-crime policies, such as harsher bail laws now being considered under urgency and no parole for repeat violent offenders, will make the situation even worse, the report says. "Government decisions are required within the next few months on strategies to address looming capacity deficits, in both the community and prison settings."

Probation staff are already struggling, with 200 more probation officers, 17 psychologists and 50 support staff needed to meet current demand. Without more staff, public safety could be affected, the report says.

In prisons, existing beds will be filled by mid-2010, and 2200 more beds - the equivalent of four new prisons - will be needed in the next eight years.

The Government has already promised a new prison by 2011 to accommodate the 572 more prisoners expected from its no parole for repeat violent offenders policy.

Other National policies, such as harsher sentences for gang members and for crimes against children, and reviewing home detention in violence, sex and drug offence cases, will place further pressure on the muster.

Corrections said the scale of the project was "daunting". Already, 40 per cent of prison guards and 46 per cent of probation officers have less than two years' experience.

Ms Collins said it was no surprise Corrections was under pressure after years of mismanagement under the previous government. "I am looking forward to working with the Department of Corrections to implement initiatives, including boosting the number of prisoners learning industry-based skills and doubling those receiving drug and alcohol treatment," she said.

Corrections Association president Beven Hanlon said the report supported the union's long-held concerns about staffing levels. "We've been saying our prisons are on teetering point for some time. It's only on goodwill and the excellent staff that we haven't fallen to bits," he said.

ON AN AVERAGE DAY:

7900 inmates are in prison, and 33,900 offenders are on community-based sentences.

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Police answer 1931 emergency calls and 2963 other calls.

1169 crimes are recorded.

830 on-road speed traffic and 3900 infringement notices are issued.

More than 10 jury trials are disposed of in the district courts.

26 youth justice cases are referred to Child, Youth and Family, and 24 family group conferences are convened.

815 cases are disposed of by the criminal summary jurisdiction of the district court.

29,000 justice-sector staff work from more than 500 sites around the country.

- The Dominion Post

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