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Prisons—Overcrowding

Tuesday 22 November 2005 Hansard source (external site)

Power5. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) Link to this
to the Minister of Corrections

Is he satisfied that the Government is doing all it can to alleviate the reported current prison overcrowding crisis; if so, why?

O'ConnorHon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections) Link to this

Yes, the Government has been closely monitoring the situation. Officials are working on a range of measures to manage prisoner numbers in the short and the longer term.

PowerSimon Power Link to this

Does the Minister agree with his officials in the briefing to the incoming Minister that “there are no credible options that would definitely decrease the forecasts for the prison population post-2008”; if so, how does he expect to house the increasing number of prisoners in light of his own view that no more new prisons are being considered?

O'ConnorHon DAMIEN O'CONNOR Link to this

The Government currently has a building programme. It has committed over $800 million to the provision of 2,000 new prison beds. We accept there is pressure on the prison system but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation correctly.

PowerSimon Power Link to this

With prisoners being housed in vans, showered at rugby clubs, and kept in police and court cells, how can the Minister convince the members of the New Zealand public that they are safer since he became the Minister of Corrections?

O'ConnorHon DAMIEN O'CONNOR Link to this

They are just as safe now as they were under my predecessor. With regard to the use of vans, the chief executive has said that that was a temporary measure at one prison, and he has instructed that it will not occur again.

SharplesDr Pita Sharples Link to this

He aha te mahere rautaki kua whiriwhiria, kua whakaaetia e ngā tari katoa o te Kāwanatanga nei, kia whakawhāiti haere te nama tino teitei rawa o ngā tāngata kei rō whare herehere i te mea, i te marama o Paenga-whāwhā i te tau 1997, e 4,988 ngā mauhere ēngari, ka tae ki tērā Rāhina 14 o tēnei marama tonu, kua piki ake te nama mauhere ki te 7,545, he pikitanga tēnei o te 51 pai hēneti, ahakoa kāre noa kia pau te iwa tau?

[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]

[What is the all-of-Government strategy to reduce the incarceration rate within our prisons, given that in the month of April 1997, there were 4,988 people in jail, but by Monday, 14 November last week, this number had climbed to 7,545, an increase of 51 percent in less than 9 years?]

O'ConnorHon DAMIEN O'CONNOR Link to this

This Government accepts the fact that numbers have increased. The Government has cracked down on serious crime, and it is locking offenders up for longer. We accept, however, that a whole-of-Government approach is needed to try to reduce the number of people going into prisons, and to assist those who come out of prisons to stay out. This Government is engaged in just such that approach.

PowerSimon Power Link to this

Does the Minister believe that responsible Government involves a Minister keeping his fingers crossed in the hope that, despite officials’ advice, prisoner numbers might reduce by 2008; if not, why is he doing that?

O'ConnorHon DAMIEN O'CONNOR Link to this

I think we accept that prisoner numbers will increase. That is why we have embarked upon an extensive capital development programme to put more than 2,000 prison beds in place.

TanczosNandor Tanczos Link to this

Does the Minister agree with the suggestion in the briefing from the Department of Corrections for the incoming Minister that pressure on resources has made rehabilitation ineffective, that assessment and management of prisoners with mental illness are inadequate, and that such are the inevitable results of a Government policy focused on its locking people up rather than on justice or the reduction of crime?

O'ConnorHon DAMIEN O'CONNOR Link to this

The Government has an obligation to protect the public from serious offenders. They will remain locked up. We, however, accept the view that we must try harder in rehabilitation to prevent those going from prison from reoffending and going back in. We are focused on that area and we will continue to work hard.

SharplesDr Pita Sharples Link to this

I rongo au ki tō whakautu mai ki ahau nā reira ka tipu te pātai, āhea tīmata ai te mahitahi o ngā tari katoa o te kāwanatanga ki te whakaiti haere i te nama o ngā tangata kei rō whare herehere?

[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]

[I heard the Minister’s response, and it gives rise to the question: when will all Government departments work together to reduce the number of people in prisons?]

O'ConnorHon DAMIEN O'CONNOR Link to this

They are engaged in that exercise as we speak.

PowerSimon Power Link to this

Why does the Minister not just admit that prison numbers and the Department of Corrections are in a shambles, swallow his own ideological burp, and allow the private sector a role—something his Government’s Corrections Act eliminated last year?

O'ConnorHon DAMIEN O'CONNOR Link to this

This Government has for a long time accepted that it is the Government’s role to look after prisons in this country. If I can use the issue of prisoner assaults as a measure of the situation in prisons today, I can say that when that party was in Government in 1998-99 the number of assaults per hundred inmates was, in fact, 1.74. Today, or in the 2004-05 year, the number of assaults was 0.39 per hundred inmates—down by one-quarter is the number of assaults in prison. We believe we are managing the situation very well.

MarkRon Mark Link to this

Is it not a fact that one of the factors exacerbating the problems of managing the large number of inmates and the unacceptable officer-to-inmate ratios is still, to this day, the wage cuts implemented by the National Government in December 1999, which slashed wages by between $600 to $7,000 and entry-level officers’ wages by $12,000; and when will this House see prison officers being paid a decent wage so that good ones stay and more sign up and join the service?

O'ConnorHon DAMIEN O'CONNOR Link to this

The member raises a very good point. In 1999 the conditions for prison officers were severely cut. Since then there have been two wage rounds. The department will begin negotiations with the unions early next year for another wage round. I am sure that all those issues will be debated at that time.

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