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John MacDonald: New mega-prison will be a mega-cluster

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Tue, 7 May 2024, 12:40pm
(Photo / NZ Herald)
(Photo / NZ Herald)

John MacDonald: New mega-prison will be a mega-cluster

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Tue, 7 May 2024, 12:40pm

Don’t go thinking that I’m soft on crime or pro-criminal or anything like that. But I think this idea the Government’s got of having a mega prison as part of its investment in the Corrections Service, I think it’s an idea that sucks. 

What it’s doing is it’s reviving a plan to build a mega-prison in Waikato with an 810-bed extension of Waikeria Prison. Which means, all up, there will be 1,865 beds. 

At the moment, the prison can hold 455 inmates. In two years’ time, according to the Government, there will be another 1,400 prisoners there. 

The announcement itself yesterday was a bit of a shambles with the Prime Minister and the Corrections Minister both unable to clarify how much of the increased Corrections investment had already been announced by the previous government. 

But the main thing for me is this idea of a mega prison. 

As soon as I heard it yesterday, I thought of a caller we had the other week when we were talking about the Three Strikes legislation making a comeback. 

I remember this guy saying the answer to fixing the crime problem lies in El Salvador. And what he was talking about there was this new mega-prison they’ve built over there which sounds like a complete nightmare. 

There are 12,000 prisoners there. It’s got space for 40,000. The inmates aren’t allowed to have any visitors and there are no rehabilitation programmes of any sort. Essentially, if you’re a ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ type, then you would love it. 

Not that Mark Mitchell and Christopher Luxon are talking about anything like that, of course. But I thought of that call about El Salvador when I heard them making their announcement yesterday. 

And even though our mega prison isn’t going to be anything like that hellhole prison in El Salvador, I don’t think it’s going to make us any safer from crime. 

Even though that’s what the Corrections Minister Mark Mitchell was going on about yesterday when he put out a media release with this headline: “$1.9 billion investment to keep New Zealand safe from crime”. 

Nonsense. It’s not going to keep us safer from crime at all. Especially this mega-prison. That’s just going to be a disaster waiting to happen. And I’ll tell you why. 

If you’re not familiar with Waikeria Prison, it is 16 kilometres south of Te Awamutu. 

So, I think we can safely say that it’s in the wops. And, right now, it can hold between 400 and 500 inmates.  

But you know as much as I know that, at your local prison, it’s not just local crims locked up there. Crims from all around the country are locked up at prisons all over the country. 

And by the time Waikeria becomes this mega-prison in two years’ time —and there’s 18-hundred crims inside— what that will mean is more prisoners further away from the people who keep them connected with the outside world. 

Because all 1800 of them won’t be from Te Awamutu. There’ll be 1800 bad eggs from all over the country. And most of them will have to kiss goodbye to the prospect of any visits from those people who keep them connected with the outside world - their families. 

Now you imagine someone isolated from their families —because of the practicalities of them living miles apart and the impracticalities of travelling to somewhere 16 kilometres south of Te Awamutu— who are they going to turn to? 

Easy. Their fellow prisoners. And what we’ll have is a mega-prison turning offenders into hardened criminals. I guarantee that’s what will happen. 

We won’t be safer from crime at all, as the Government wants us to believe. We’ll be worse off. 

But, you know, the politicians will be able to say they’ve delivered on all their tough-on-crime posturing. But that’ll be about it. 

If they were really serious about trying to reduce crime —or, in particular, increase the chances of someone not re-offending after they’ve been on the inside— they wouldn’t be building a mega-prison. 

If they were serious, they’d be building more, smaller prisons all around the country. Because, if they did that, we’d be sending criminals to prisons where they could stay in touch with families and whanau - and at least have a bit of hope.  

Because, yes, criminals need to face consequences. But if they don’t have any hope, do you really think they're going to stay on the straight-and-narrow? Of course they’re not. Especially if they’re stuck in the wops, 16 kilometres south of Te Awamutu. 

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