Waikeria gets new 500-bed prison, mental health facility

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

A new 500-bed prison and the country’s first 100-bed mental health facility will be built at the Waikato prison of Waikeria by 2022.

This will replace the 100-year-old high-security 'top jail', which will be closed down, and will run alongside the low-risk security units, such as the Māori Focus Unit, Te Ao Marama.

In an announcement, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis described the century-old prison building as horrific.

“The yards are like animal cages. It was first designed 100 years ago and isn’t fit for purpose for either staff or prisoners.”

Davis says the move scraps National’s plan for a mega-prison of up to 2, 000 prisoners at Waikeria.

“They are expensive and ineffective, becoming super-sized factories that just turn low-level criminals into hardened criminals,” said Davis.

Corrections CEO Ray Smith said 50 percent of the new beds would be double-bunking and psychiatric staff will work with corrections staff in the new mental health facility.

There are currently 10,600 in New Zealand’s prison system, but only 9,254 beds.

Davis announced a further 976 beds over the next 12-18 months to alleviate capacity pressures, as part of the government’s goal of reducing the prison population by 30 percent over the next 15 years.

Next year 244 beds will be added to Rolleston Prison and 122 at Tongariro.  In 2019, Rimutaka will gain 244 new beds, with 122 at Christchurch Women's, and 244 at Christchurch Men's prison.

Low-level site development is underway for the new Waikeria prison, with earthworks for construction expected to begin in August