Are we hearing things correctly?
Crusher Collins has been saying staff in some New Zealand prisons are working in “Dickensian” conditions and they should be closed down.
The important thing – surely – is that bad buggers are being banged up in Dickensian conditions.
If the prison staff don’t like it, there are plenty of unemployed people who would be keen to take over their jobs.
The future of the prison popped up yesterday, when Crusher was being questioned by Parliament’s law and order select committee.
Government might reconsider building new prisons as the number of inmates appears to have stabilised, she said.
Crusher is our Corrections Minister, of course.
She recalls that when she became minister in 2008 there were forecasts the prison population would increase by about 2000.
But instead of the prison population rising, the number of people in jail has actually fallen slightly.
It sounds suspiciously like the judges have gone soft.
Whatever the explanation, Crusher is musing on the possibility of closing old prisons such as Mt Crawford in Wellington, which she says is decrepit and unsuitable to undertake rehabilitation.
Bang ’em up to be miserable, says Alf.
Crusher’s ideas didn’t come out of left field yesterday.
On TV3’s The Nation the other day, she identified Mt Crawford as one of those she would like to close.
“Corrections staff do their very best in very difficult, Dickensian situations – the old Mt Eden was a disgrace. There are wings in some of our prisons that are well past their use-by date.”
More fascinating, she said the Government did not see the need to build more new prisons after the Wiri project, basically because crime statistics were starting to track down.
But she did not know when it would be possible to close any of the old prisons.
“The muster is starting to stabilise, however ultimately it is up to the criminals,” she said.
“If they want to stop committing violent crimes – as 62 percent of our inmates currently are – then we’ll be able to start closing more.”
“We still have no idea what started the explosion.”
The Mt Prison prison was built in 1927, which makes it a bit more modern than Dickensian, and holds about 120 prisoners.
More important, it does its job and keeps ratbags off the streets.
It was reopened a few years ago as the Corrections Department struggled to find enough beds for its burgeoning prison muster.
A Corrections spokesman then said the jail had undergone a $300,000 maintenance programme “to keep it up to standard throughout”.
Some of the jail’s 120 beds were in double-bunk cells. More double bunking would be installed as part of a national programme to increase capacity for a prison population predicted to reach 12,500 by 2018.
The only fly in the penal ointment that Alf can discern is the prison’s location.
The Govenrment has been under pressure from folks who talk of trails and heritage sites that would make northern Miramar an easy sell for any travel agent – if the land wasn’t occupied by the jailbirds and their keepers.
Local groups objected to the re-opening of Mt Crawford on Miramar Peninsula.
Maintaining the old prison on the land was “crazy” and resources would be better spent on expanding facilities at Rimutaka, said the chairman of Enterprise Miramar Peninsula, Allan Probert.
His organisation would like the prison site turned into a five-star hotel like a Hilton, the headlands into a heritage site, and the defence land to become a regional park.
He says that with the growing film industry, airport expansion, and other developments the peninsula could become a distinctive brand that attracts visitors and investment to the area.
Collins at that time was saying only that she sympathised with Miramar residents
“…and I advise they meet Mrs Annette King, the [Labour] Member for Rongotai, regarding this.
“If we were able to close Mt Crawford, we would.
“Unfortunately, being left with prisoners to house and not enough capacity means we have had to re-open it.”
A Hilton Hotel?
It’s great to know of a site with million-dollar views.
It’s even better knowing the prison walls prevent the inmates from enjoying them.