Jenna Lynch analysis: Mark Mitchell gets caught up in spin, not substance in Govt's worst performance at press conference

The Government has unveiled a $1.9 billion boost for Corrections, including funding for more than 800 extra beds at Waikeria Prison. 

Law and order are one of three pillars of National's back-on-track plan - but they struggled to get their numbers right.

Law and order burnt to a crisp - the Waikeria Prison riot saw prisoners rampage on the rooftops in the summer of 2020.

It burnt the high-security unit to the ground, causing $50 million in damage.

The riot added to the need for an out-of-date prison. Waikeria was already in line for a 500-bed high-security facility that was announced back in 2018 but still not completed due to COVID-19.

Now, the prison is expanding.

"The Government is investing $1.9 billion in Corrections, more officers, prison capacity and more support for offenders turn away from a life of crime," Corrections Minister Mark Mitchell said.

As the Government amps up tough-on-crime talk, it's boasting funding to add 810 beds at Waikeria - except all is not as it seems.

"Are the 810 new beds, are they on top of the 500 already being built at Waikeria?" the Government was asked.

"No, no," Mitchell replied. 

"So, you're only doing 200 extra beds, not 800 extra beds?" the Government was asked.

"No, there's an extra 800 beds going into the system," Luxon said.

"But 600 of them were funded by the Labour Government?" they were asked.

"Well, well," Mitchell replied.

Just 200 more beds the Government said, not 800.

"I think what we're doing is we're re-staking our commitment as the incoming Government to get that delivered," Mitchell said.

The Government couldn't say how much the total prison capacity would increase by, compared to the current capacity, nor could it say how much the extension would cost.

"Well, I mean, I can't give you a number now because it's commercially sensitive," Mitchell said.

The Government said the $1.9 billion boost also includes the money that was already budgeted for Labour's yet-to-be-completed 600 beds. There was $750 million set aside for that.

Though the Prime Minister wrongly suggested the $1.9 billion was all operating expenses - that means not new buildings.

"In that Budget is the money that we need to expand Waikeria by 810 beds. In that money is also the money that we need to make sure that we are expanding a number of prison and Corrections officers that we've got," Luxon said.

It was quickly clarified.

"No, so the capital funding is inside the $1.9 billion," Mitchell said.

The announcement also includes $484 million in savings that the Government has redirected from the back office to the frontline. That'll pay for 685 more Corrections staff, 470 of them prison officers, while $78 million will be spent on rehab for remand prisoners.

Serious about tough on crime, just not so serious about knowing their numbers.

Jenna Lynch analysis

That will go down as the worst performance this Government has had at a press conference. 

Journalists left there confused - worried about what to report because nothing was clear and in fact, nothing they said was right. 

Very soon after the Prime Minister and his minister left the podiums, a clarification statement came through.

Here are the corrected numbers: There are currently 455 beds at the prison, Labour's 600 will be ready for use next year and 810 will be added on top of those - bringing the capacity at Waikeria to 1865 beds. That's mega prison levels - basically what Labour cancelled when it came into Government 

This is supposed to be one of National's strong suits - crime, crackdowns and numbers.

Mitchell had clearly done his homework on the spin but not the substance.

This is a good lesson for the minister to be across the detail. He will be under no illusion that his performance was sub-par.