Fears turning Christchurch youth prisons into COVID-19 facilities could ruin young offenders' rehab

Corrections is considering turning two youth units into COVID-19 quarantine facilities. 

It's a bitter pill to swallow for the Christchurch facility where a garden grown by inmates, a crucial part of their rehabilitation, will be lost.

For the last three years, volunteer Brownwyn Adams-Hooper has gardened with inmates at the youth facility of Christchurch Men's Prison.

"I go into the unit for one afternoon a week for three hours. In that three hours we are out in the garden," she says.

They're yielding results good enough to win awards at agricultural shows. It's a small, but important part of prisoners' rehabilitation - and it's about to be taken away. 

"It's gonna put them backwards; I can't see one positive thing to come out of it," says Adams-Hooper.

Corrections is considering disbanding two youth facilities to make way for COVID-19 quarantine facilities.

There are concerns the inmates will be absorbed into prison. 

"These are 18-year-old guys who are going to have to go in what's called mainstream," says Cosmo Jeffery, co-president of the Howard League. "Mainstream is where they've got experienced older prisoners who know the system who don't really care about other things."

Cosmo Jeffery would know - he's spent two years there himself. 

"I know how lonely and how stressful and how incredibly dehumanising it is," he says.

Kathy Basire, Jeffery's fellow co-president, says "they're not taking into account their own policy, which is that under-20-year-olds are not placed in mainstream and that they have special needs that adults don't have".

Corrections says it's a difficult "trade-off" to keep everyone safe from COVID-19 and doesn't mean the young men will automatically be placed in the mainstream adult prison.

"I can understand why they need a COVID isolation unit," says Adams-Hooper.

Adams-Hooper just can't understand why it has to come at the cost of the garden that has helped so many young men grow.