Thousands see Wellington's old jail off

Last updated 13:43 24/11/2012
KARL DRURY/Fairfax NZ

Wellington Prison will close in November after 85 years. It has occupied its prime spot atop the Miramar Peninsula since 1927 and may be set to stay after the Historic Places Trust recommended it be made a heritage building.

David Blake
PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ Zoom
BEHIND BARS: David Blake working in Wellington Prison's printing room where, brochures for public and private companies are printed using prison labour.

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Thousands have turned up for a rare chance to explore Wellington Prison before it closes its cell doors for good.

The Corrections Department has opened the doors on the 85-year-old jail before it closes down permanently at the end of the month.

Crowds have been passing inside the wire today to get a look at the macabre and historic features of one New Zealand's oldest and most notorious prisons.

The prison was labelled a disgrace last year by Corrections Minister at the time Judith Collins. She said prison officers did "their very best in very difficult, Dickensian situations".

It was opened in 1927 and four convicted murderers were hanged by the state on portable gallows which were erected in the corner of the prison in the 1930s.

Located on some of the city's most covetable land atop the Mt Crawford Peninsula, the prison had a capital value of $6.9 million in 2009.

Karen Petrie, Corrections Services' Lower North Regional Manager said the facility was a good example of an early 20th century prison.

''When it was built in 1927 it was considered a progressive facility for its time. However, New Zealand has moved on considerably since then and today the prison is not up to the standard of a modern Corrections facility and no longer meets our needs.''

With all prisoners now relocated to other facilities throughout the country, the prison's cell blocks are open for visitors to see how they ate, showered and slept.

Visitors can also see the print shop, which has been an important part of Wellington Prison and remains an important rehabilitation industry for Corrections, enabling prisoners to gain valuable skills and experience that help them find work once they are released back into the community.

"There's a lot to see and take in during the open day, and Corrections staff will be on hand to answer any questions people have," Petrie said.

"It's also an opportunity for anyone who's interested in joining Corrections, either as a Corrections officer, nurse or psychologist, to talk with our recruitment team."

Entry to the open day is by gold coin donation, with funds going to charities selected by Wellington Prison staff, including Night Shelter, Women's Refuge, Victim Support and the Salvation Army. It is open to the public from 10am to 3pm.

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- The Dominion Post

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