Prisoner rehab centre ditched - Corrections cites public concern

Last updated 05:00 04/11/2013

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The Department of Corrections has scrapped plans for a cutting-edge prisoner reintegration centre in Taranaki.

Corrections boss Ray Smith promised a prisoner reintegration centre would be set up after the New Plymouth prison closed in March.

It was expected to open alongside the new police station on October 1, but last week Corrections announced that the centre had been put in the too-hard-basket and would not go ahead.

Acting lower North Island regional commissioner Paul Tomlinson said consultation with the public had raised serious issues surrounding establishing a rehab centre for prisoners.

"The community revealed concerns about the challenges of setting up a residential centre close to the city, and managing offenders in one location."

He said Corrections had been tasked to look at other options and had considered city-based and rural-based locations, as well as other ways to deliver the service.

Instead of returning to stay at an eight-bed residential facility with dedicated staff providing education, alcohol and drug treatment and employment support, post-release prisoners would be picked up from the prison gates, taken home and referred to existing community services.

It is part of a nationwide Out of Gate initiative which Tomlinson said will "provide targeted, consistent reintegration support for short-serving offenders who are known to face a range of difficulties on release".

Prisoners' families and children will also have access to services, and extra services and support will be provided if required, Tomlinson said.

But concerns have also arisen from the community about the decision to ditch the centre.

Taranaki Anglican Archbishop Philip Richardson was disappointed by the move.

Last year he was highly critical and outspoken about the closure of the prison and how it would likely increase reoffending as well as stress and costs to families and the community.

He had been supportive of the move to set up a reintegration centre and ground-breaking three-month programme which he had been told would draw on the best overseas studies and research.

"I am very disappointed, however I am also aware of the ongoing commitment of the Department of Corrections to build post-release support for prisoners returning to Taranaki through the new Out of Gate programme, and I have offered to do whatever I can to support that initiative."

New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young said he too was disappointed.

"From what I understand the parties working together on this could not find the right mix of solutions that was needed."

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He said he had word there would be some funding and resources made available to Taranaki to support the Out of Gate programme, but Corrections Minister Anne Tolley was on a work trip to Australia so he could not elaborate further.

"I will be working with Corrections and the minister to ensure we get the same level of success we were promised with the centre."

Tomlinson said Out of Gate addresses the requirements for reintegration in New Plymouth and meets Corrections' commitment to the New Plymouth community to support prisoners who have been released.

Offenders will start to work with a service provider while still in prison, he said.

"The provider will link them with the services they need in Taranaki. The providers may have staff in Taranaki or be able to use connections with other social service providers locally.

"Corrections believes this is the best way we can help offenders transition to the next phase of their lives."

- Fairfax Media

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