Jail empties as closure looms

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 30/11/2012
prison stand
ANDY JACKSON
New Plymouth Prison shuts in March.

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New Plymouth prison is gradually emptying out as the axe is poised to fall.

The doors of New Zealand's oldest and smallest operational prison will clang shut permanently in March.

A total of 13 staff have already transferred to other prisons or new jobs within the Corrections Department, acting New Plymouth prison manager Roger Mita said yesterday.

And another 10 were waiting to transfer in the new year.

"The department is doing everything it can to make sure everyone who wants to stay with us will have a job," Mr Mita said.

"All staff members affected by these changes have been given real choices for ongoing employment and the department is supporting them through this period of change in whatever way possible."

As for the inmates of the prison - which can hold 112 prisoners - they too are disappearing.

"Initially in June the prison muster was 112. It is currently around 50 and by December 14 it will be down to 24," Mr Mita said.

Ninety per cent of current sentenced prisoners remaining in the prison would be eligible for release before the end of this year, so the impact on them would be minimal, he says.

Remand prisoners will be moved to Whanganui Prison, two hours travel time from New Plymouth and one hour from Hawera.

"Sentenced prisoners will need to move to other prisons, where facilities provide better rehabilitation and reintegration programmes and opportunities.

"When prisoners are transferred to another prison, the department will ensure their training and employment continues wherever possible," he said.

The last prisoners will be transferred out of the prison by March 1, 2013, ready for the prison to be closed by March 15.

An open day for the public, similar to that held recently at Wellington's Mt Crawford Prison, would be held around the time of closure.

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