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Extra 240 beds to be added to prison system

Extra 240 beds to be added to prison system

An additional 240 beds are being added to the country's prison capacity as part of the Corrections Department's management of record inmate numbers, Acting Corrections Minister Phil Goff announced today.

"The extra beds are needed because inmate numbers have been increasing faster than projected due to the impact of the government's tougher sentencing, bail and parole laws and improvements in the police's crime clearance rates," Mr Goff said.

The 240 low-security beds will be added to Wanganui (120 beds), Christchurch Men's (60), Christchurch Women's (40) and Rimutaka (20) prisons by the end of next year. The new beds are on top of the 213 new prison beds that were announced last month, bringing the total to 453 beds to be added to existing prisons by 2006.

Mr Goff said the Corrections Department has already added 600 beds to current capacity through using its four per cent operational buffer, increased double-bunking, and reopening units at Tongariro/Rangipo and Wanganui prisons.

"Those 600 beds have helped address the immediate issue of accommodating a record prison muster, which currently stands at 6869; 100 down on its peak in September. As a result, court cells are not currently being used to house prisoners and only limited use is being made of police cells.

"The additional 453 beds will help meet a likely increase in prisoner numbers over the next year or so. Four new prisons are also on track to open over the next three years, increasing capacity by over 1500 beds."

"At a time when police statistics show crime rates have declined by 18 per cent since their peak in 1997, it is ironic that our rate of imprisonment is going up.

"That is caused by the impact of increased resources and new technology greatly improving police resolution rates, and the impact of a tougher approach to crime.

"In 1999 the referendum on crime indicated a strong public desire for such an approach and Labour has delivered on that. "In the short term, imprisonment is necessary to prevent serious and recidivist offenders from continuing to commit crime. Along with falling unemployment, it will help bring crime rates down further.

"But building more prisons is not the long-term answer – that lies in the government's efforts to tackle the causes of crime; in particular by early intervention programmes to assist children in dysfunctional families, and preventive education and health programmes dealing with issues such as truancy and education failure, and drug and alcohol abuse.

"We will also continue to invest more in programmes proven to be effective in reducing re-offending by youth and other offenders," Mr Goff said.

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