The cell doors have officially swung shut - New Plymouth Prison is to close.
Confirmation came today when the Department of Corrections chief executive Ray Smith announced final decisions on the future of a number of New Zealand prisons.
New Plymouth and Wellington Prisons will close, along with some parts of Arohata, Rolleston, Tongariro/Rangipo and Waikeria Prisons. The Department will also invest in refurbishments at Invercargill and Auckland Prisons.
Proposed changes were announced on March 22 and sparked protests, petitions and concerns from various groups in Taranaki and around the country.
Following a month of consultation with staff and unions Mr Smith has decided to proceed with the changes. During the consultation period Mr Smith and senior managers visited every affected prison and met with staff and unions.
"These changes will improve the overall standard of New Zealand's prison system, give better working conditions for prison staff and better facilities to work with offenders and reduce reoffending," Mr Smith said.
Some of these prison buildings are more than 100 years old with the main block at New Plymouth Prison in use during the Land Wars of the 1860s.
"These ageing buildings were designed and built in a different time, they lack the facilities for rehabilitation we need in a modern corrections system and provide an inadequate working environment for prison staff," said Mr Smith.
"We are putting sixty five million dollars into reducing reoffending by 25% over the next four years and we need modern prisons that will help us achieve our target," he said.
"Not having expensive maintenance bills for old and inefficient prison buildings means more money can be put to work in new and expanded rehabilitation programmes that will reduce reoffending".
The department said it was working with New Plymouth Prison staff on options for ongoing employment. Assistance for relocation and retraining will be available depending on each staff member's needs.
Planning for the refurbishment of Auckland and Invercargill Prisons will now commence.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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