National Party wants 500 more spaces at Waikeria Prison

After claiming in 2011 prisons were a "moral and fiscal failure", Bill English has admitted National is looking at introducing an additional 500 spaces at Waikeria Prison. This is on top of 1500 already promised as part of a new facility at the Waikato-based jail.

It's no secret that New Zealand prisons are bursting at the seams. National Party leader Bill English says "[there are] a lot more people on remand, and people - particularly more serious criminals - are serving a longer proportion of their sentences".

The Ministry of Justice projected the prison population for the 2016-17 fiscal year to be 10,274. Corrections says there are currently around 10,400 people behind bars, and there's space for an additional 400.

On Saturday, Mr English stood by his 2011 statement, that our prisons are a "moral and fiscal failure", but added any plans to drive population numbers down wouldn't include tweaks to bail laws or winding down sentences.

Asked for comment on this, National MP Louise Upston had a simple answer.

"The Prime Minister said that in 2011, and yes I still agree with him."

They are record numbers, and National says it's now looking at spending more money, to build even more spaces at Waikato's Waikeria Prison.

"So we're planning for 1500. There's an option of another 500 on top of the 1500," says Ms Upston.

But what about reducing the number overall? National announced an early-release scheme for low-risk offenders this week, but only a small amount would be eligible.

"Well, the estimate," says Mr English, "is that it might free up about 50 beds in a year, so it's really quite small."

Labour Corrections spokesman Kelvin Davis told Three's The Nation he'd look at reviewing tougher bail laws, which were introduced in 2013. Ironically, they were changes Labour threw its support behind at the time.

Asked if he would be ruling out loosening bail laws, Mr Davis said: "We have to have a look at them, but there's no doubt the Sentencing Act in 2002, bail laws - they all contribute to the increased prison muster."