Privately-run prison to replace old regional jails

DANYA LEVY
Last updated 08:30 19/03/2012
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Prime Minister John Key has confirmed old regional prisons are set to close and be replaced with a new privately-built prison at Wiri, in South Auckland.

The Government announced earlier this month that Serco, the private company managing Auckland's Mt Eden prison, would also run the new 960-bed jail which would be built by Fletcher Construction.

Although the prison muster has been falling, the Government says it needs extra capacity in Auckland.

Serco is expected reduce reoffending by more than 10 per cent and will face financial penalties if it fails to meet the target.

Key this morning said the Government was speaking with unions about closing old regional prisons but would not confirm which prisons would close.

Wellington's Mount Crawford Prison and prisons at New Plymouth and Invercargill are expected to close.

"We will be effectively replacing them with Wiri which is a very up-to-date facility," he told TVNZ's Breakfast programme.

The Government had considered the effect of the closures on local communities, he said.

"But overall, these are very very old prisons and we need to work our way through what would happen if we kept them. They require a lot of ongoing maintenance, (and) they wouldn't be great facilities for prisoners and the staff that work in them."

Building Wiri was in the best interests of the justice system, Key said.

"Despite [that] we are doing a good job and getting on top of crime and starting to see the number of prison beds required reducing, we took the view it was better to upgrade the stock with a prison at Wiri."

Labour's justice spokesman Charles Chauvel said Wiri was expected to cost the taxpayer about $1 billion over 25 years but its "indirect" costs were becoming clear and were "disturbing".

"National seems to have made a decision that, rather than refurbish many regional state-owned institutions, it will simply close them. Prison closures will be a big blow to regional economies. Job losses will be significant."

The proposal made "little economic or social sense".

The National-led Government should invest the $1 billion in improving existing state assets instead of boosting the bottom line of a private company, he said.

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