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Corrections Minister Davis changes inmate forecast comments

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis changes inmate forecast comments

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has done a swift backtrack saying he was aware of the latest prison population projections when the government made the Waikeria Prison decision.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

New Zealand's prison population is being forecast to rise by more than 4000 over the next decade, according to a Ministry of Justice report.

That would take the number of inmates to 14,400 by the year 2027.

The number of prisoners being held on remand - those awaiting trial or being held prior to sentencing - was predicted to almost double over that period to 5400. The report says that's because of an increase in the length of time people are spending waiting for their case to go to trial.

Last month Mr Davis announced a small prison would replace the deteriorating jail at Waikeria, with a 500-bed high-security facility and a 100-bed specialised unit for prisoners suffering significant mental health issues. Plans to build a mega-prison, which would have been the largest in the country, were scrapped in May.

Mr Davis told Morning Report he saw the Justice Ministry report for the first time last night.

"I didn't personally [know about the forecast] when we made the [Waikeria] announcement," he said.

In a statement released after the interview, Mr Davis said he meant to say he hadn't read the public version of the report.

"The decision on the rebuild of Waikeria Prison was made by Cabinet based on the 2017 Justice Sector Projections," the statement said.

"My comments this morning were intended to convey that I simply had not read the public version of the report on the projections, which was published last week. Of course I've seen dozens of official reports based on the information in the projections."

"We're treating [the forecasts] as a warning and we're doing something about it" - duration 7:27
from Morning Report

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"We made the decision to build the 500 beds at Waikeria and 100 mental health beds based on research."

But Mr Davis said the forecasts were on the basis of current policy and the new government was changing that.

"We're treating [the forecasts] as a warning and we're doing something about it," he said.

Mr Davis has previously said the government aimed to reduce the prison population by 30 percent over 15 years, to around 7000.

The government's research showed mega-prisons did not work, he said.

Mr Davis said since January, growth in the prison population was tracking below the forecast for the first time "in a very long time". There were now 10,500 people in prison, a fall of 300 since March.

National Party leader Simon Bridges said Mr Davis's admission was "remarkable".

"If you read the report it states quite clearly in black and white it was finalised in November 2017 when the justice sector chief executives approved it so what's been going on for the last several months?"

Mr Davis said Simon Bridges was wrong. "Ministers have been working off the 2017 projections through all decisions made in relation to Waikeria Prison. These formed the basis of the paper I took to Cabinet in June," his statement said.

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