Government announces billion-dollar boost for more Corrections officers, prison capacity

A massive funding boost is on the way for Corrections, the Government has announced.

Corrections Minister Mark Mitchell said as part of the National-ACT coalition agreement it will be putting $1.9 billion towards more frontline Corrections officers, more support for offenders to turn away from crime, and more prison capacity.

The Government plans to deliver an 810-bed extension to Waikeria Prison and 685 new frontline staff at Corrections, including 470 Corrections officers.

A new 600-bed facility at Waikeria Prison was announced in 2018 by the previous Labour Government which was originally set to be completed in early 2022. The new facility was planned to have 100 beds for inmates with mental health needs.

The 810-bed extension at Waikeria Prison will be on top of the 600-beds that will be delivered during the middle of next year. 

The Government will also invest $78 million to extend rehabilitation programmes for the 45 percent of prisoners who are on remand.

"Our Government said we would crack down on crime. We promised to restore law and order, and that means ensuring there are serious consequences for serious offenders," Mitchell said.

"Through the Government's savings programme, we have identified $442 million in savings over four years from Corrections. We've reinvested those resources in the frontline to support Corrections to keep New Zealanders safe."

The Department of Corrections was told to find more than $100 million in savings by the Government and move it to the frontline.

It was part of the Coalition Government's directive to public services to cut costs by between 6.5 and 7.5 percent to help reduce annual public service spending by $1.5 billion.

However, certain agencies, including Corrections, are excluded from overall spending reductions by having their savings recycled from the back office to the frontline.

The funding announcement comes amidst pressure on the prison system – with some inmates locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

"Corrections have been under a lot of pressure for the last six years in terms of numbers and that has dictated the way that they manage the prison and the prisoners," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said Corrections is now starting to see success around recruiting, training and employing new officers – with 20,000 applications following a new campaign launched in February and 130 new officers being trained each month.

ACT Party leader David Seymour said the funding will "ensure there is sufficient prison capacity as required".

"The human cost of being a victim is nothing compared to the cost of imprisoning criminals, and we won't have a functioning economy if people don't feel safe doing business in their communities," Seymour said.