22 Mar 2012

Prison guards union seeks answers over closures

9:21 pm on 22 March 2012

The main union representing prison guards says it will be demanding answers from the Corrections Department after it announced on Thursday plans to close prisons.

Mt Crawford Prison in Wellington and New Plymouth Prison are to close, along with jail units in other parts of the country.

125 staff will lose their jobs, although Corrections is promising to find them work at other prisons.

Corrections Association president Beven Hanlon says he will be asking management tough questions about their plans .

"They must have done some work on why they're taking away regional prisons and putting everything up in Auckland and they must have done some work on how much money they're looking to save and why it's more efficient to do it that way. This is quite a big policy shift from them."

The Corrections Department says staff were briefed on the plans Thursday morning.

Along with the two prison closures, units at Arohata Prison in Wellington, Rolleston Prison in Christchurch, Rangipo Prison in the central North Island, and Waikeria in the King Country will shut.

Refurbishment is also planned at the country's only maximum security prison at Paremoremo, and at Invercargill Prison.

The Department of Corrections says the changes will raise the overall standards of prisons, improve staff working conditions and increase public safety.

Chief executive Ray Smith says the closures involve prisons that are already empty or reaching the end of their operational life.

Mr Smith says every attempt will be made to ensure as many inmates as possible are housed in prisons in their present regions close to their families.

He says Corrections will also ensure affected staff will continue to have a job, where possible, and it is anticipated most staff will be able to transfer within the same prison or to another nearby.

Mr Smith has visited all 19 prisons during the past year. In some there are issues with bad lighting, a lack of toilet facilities, no provision for disabled access, poor cell observation and line of sight, exposed pipes and services and inadequate staff facilities.

The planned changes will occur throughout the year and Mr Smith and other Corrections executives would be visiting prisons to explain the proposed changes.

Taupo mayor saddened

The Mayor of the Taupo District says plans to scale down some prisons and close others tear the heart out of regional New Zealand.

Rick Cooper, says he is saddened by the news and believes it is Corrections intention to entirely close Rangipo Prison within a few years.

Step towards privatisation - union

The Public Service Association says the closure of two prisons is a clear step towards the privatisation of the prison system.

125 staff will lose their jobs, although Corrections is promising to find them work at other prisons.

PSA's president Richard Wagstaff says it seems clear the Government has a privatisation agenda, given that the closure announcement comes at the same time as confirmation of a public-private partnership for a new jail in South Auckland.