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Another 1800 prison spaces needed

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 17/10/2016

The government has signed off plans to increase prison capacity by about 1800 places over the next five years.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins says it's going to cost around $1 billion.

She says 341 extra places are already being added through double bunking and conversions, but that's not going to be enough.

"Despite significant progress in reducing crime the number of prisoners has increased faster than projected," Ms Collins said on Tuesday.

"This is because the proportion of offenders charged with serious crimes has risen, meaning more people are being remanded in custody and serving more of their sentences in prison."

She says there has to be a response or there will be unacceptable safety risks.

"To meet the growth in the prison population we need to invest in a further 1800 prisoner places in the network at a construction cost of around $1 billion."

There will be a new 245-bed block at Mt Eden Prison and a new 1500-bed facility at Waikeria Prison, as well as increased double bunking in Ngawha Prison in Northland.

Ms Collins says about 700 extra staff will be needed when the project is completed.

Prime Minister John Key says the crime rate has definitely fallen but the "hard end" of criminality is increasing.

"It's the changing nature of crime, and it's an international trend," he said.

Labour leader Andrew Little says he hopes New Zealand's economic development isn't going to be built around imprisoning more people.

"In the end, our prisons are a mark of failure of law enforcement," he told reporters.

"One of the reasons we are calling for an extra 1000 police is that just the presence of police in our communities is a deterrent - you end up deterring crime and you don't need more prison beds."

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