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Swain: New Northland corrections facility

Hon Paul Swain Minister of Corrections

8 March 2005 Speech

Swain opens new Northland corrections facility

Tena koutou and thank you all for joining me today for the opening of the Northland Region Corrections Facility.

I’d like to acknowledge the presence of my colleagues Dover Samuels, MP for Te Tai Tokerau, and Associate Corrections Minister Mita Ririnui.

Can I also acknowledge and thank Ngati Rangi and the wider local community for their support of this project. As our partner and kaitiaki for the NRCF site, Ngati Rangi's involvement has been and will continue to be vital to the management of the prison.

I have mixed feelings about opening this facility. On one hand, I am pleased that the project has been successfully completed after a lengthy and at times, difficult process. It is encouraging to see that the facility now has good community support. It will provide jobs for local people and will boost Northland's economy.

On the other hand, this a timely reminder that we must do more to stop people coming here in the first place and make sure that if they do come, they don’t come back.

The government has listened to community concern about crime, victims and sentencing. We have responded to these concerns by strengthening bail, sentencing and parole laws, while police clearance rates have improved dramatically . The consequence of this has been a significant growth in inmate numbers. It is projected inmate numbers will increase 15 per cent – 1000 inmates – over the next five years.

NRCF and the other three new prisons will add more than 1600 beds to the country's prison capacity by 2007. In addition 493 beds are currently being added to facilities around the country to ensure that we are able to respond to the growing numbers.

The Corrections system is responsible for two basic things. It must keep the community safe by incarcerating people as a result of their offending. Imprisonment is necessary to prevent serious and recidivist offenders from continuing to commit crime, and is punishment for their offending.

However, locking away more people is only part of the answer.

One of the government’s priorities is early intervention. A great deal of effort is going into identifying at-risk children and making sure they have the services and help they need. These include preventive education and health programmes dealing with issues such as truancy and education failure, and drug and alcohol abuse.

A major focus of mine is to improve rehabilitation and reintegration programmes that are designed to lower number of people who returning to prison.

At present, approximately 25 per cent of inmates return to prison within a year of release. This is ridiculous. If we can lower this to 20 per cent, that equates to approximately 350 fewer inmates returning to prison – the size of NRCF.

This $133 million, 350-bed facility, is significant because it represents a change in how we deal with inmates. Everything is geared to lowering reoffending rates.

While at NRCF, inmates will attend programmes designed to make sure that people can live healthy non-offending lives on their release. These range from parenting skills to budgeting, alcohol and drug programmes to violence prevention.

Training inmates to give them the skills they need to gain employment once they are released is also important to the facility. Inmates will be strongly encouraged and helped to develop a work ethic and given vocational skills targeted to industry needs.

The government is working on a plan to give inmates formal training for jobs before they are released.

Each prison, including NRCF, will have a dedicated staff member responsible for coordinating reintegration services for inmates who are one year from their release date or parole hearing.

Rick Barker, the Associate Minister of Social Development and Employment, and I will be making an announcement on the detail of the plan in due course.

Given that the NRCF is a new facility starting from scratch, I have a high expectation that this facility can lead the way with training and work experience options in order that people can return to the community and put to use those skills to good use. This should lead to real job opportunities.

Already plans are underway to provide forestry and silviculture training and I would expect other skills training will follow. The simple fact is that someone in gainful employment is much less likely to return to prison than those who are sitting at home with time on their hands.

Fifty per cent of inmates in New Zealand prisons are Maori. This figure is unacceptable and we must do more to address this. I have asked Associate Corrections Minister Mita Ririnui to focus on this issue.

Other prisons have specialist Maori Focus Units – but this facility is different. Tikanga is an important aspect of NRCF. The philosophy behind the regional facilities is involving whanau and community in the rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates so that when they are released they will resettle in the community easier. The success of this approach is borne out through research.

Reducing reoffending means there are less victims, safer communities, less costs to taxpayers and more people contributing to New Zealand rather than taking from it.

Ngati Rangi has provided leadership during the construction of NRCF and is heavily involved in developing the programmes that will be offered to inmates once the facility is operational.

Your ongoing involvement is essential to the facility's operation, programmes, delivery of services and spiritual well being of everyone involved.

Building NRCF has boosted the Northland economy. At its peak over 550 people have been employed during the construction of this facility and where possible, local firms were used.

About 50 per cent of the 231 Corrections staff needed for NRCF will come from Northland and the facility will continue to directly contribute to the region's economy. Staff salaries alone are expected to exceed $10 million.

It is also important to acknowledge the incredibly important job Corrections staff do.

Their work, by and large, goes unnoticed, but they ensure that our communities are protected by safely and humanely containing inmates during the term of their sentence. Officers are role models, mentors, teachers and counsellors. If one inmate makes a positive change due to their work then that is a success.

The Corrections Officer role comes with the community’s expectation of high standards and integrity. I trust you will maintain the highest possible standards on our behalf.

I would like to conclude by thanking contractor Mainzeal, the many subcontractors, Ngati Rangi, the Taitokerau community, my colleague Dover Samuels and the department for all the hard work to see this project through the construction stages.

This is an important day for Northland. Let’s work together to make our communities safer.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.


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