Many families of the sentenced inmates in Invercargill Prison will not be able to travel to Otago or Christchurch for visits, Fiona Guy Kidd, QC, says. [File photo]
The New Zealand Criminal Bar Association president has concerns about prisoners rehabilitating and reintegrating if they are serving sentences long distances from their family.
Fiona Guy Kidd, QC, made the comments after Stuff reported the Department of Corrections could make Invercargill Prison a remand-only facility.
“Many prisoners are from disadvantaged backgrounds and have young children and their whānau will not be able to afford to travel to visit them in OCF [Otago Corrections Facility] or Christchurch,” Guy Kidd said.
Rehabilitation and reintegration was much more difficult when the prisoner was a significant distance from their supports, she said.
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A Correction spokesperson said any decision made by the department in the new year would work to minimise the number of men who were moved away from their family and support networks.
“Where men are moved away from their families, we will ensure they can maintain contact through increased frequency of virtual visits.”
Guy Kidd said a prisoner contacting whānau helped them on their journey to rehabilitation and ultimately a successful reintegration into society.
“More should be done to bring rehabilitative programmes to Invercargill Prison to promote the rehabilitation of local people.”
As at June 30 this year, there were 110 people in the Invercargill Prison, of which 41 were awaiting a trial or sentencing and 69 were sentenced prisoners.
Invercargill lawyer Hugo Young said the importance of keeping prisoners close to people who support them could not be overstated.
“Prisons are quite frankly a breeding ground for harder criminals, where antisocial elements dominate and removing prisoners from areas where their families are based cannot be a good thing.”
Outside of Invercargill, the next closest men’s prison is Otago Corrections Facility.
Invercargill Prison, established in 1910, has the smallest population of male prisons in the country.
The Otago prison, established in 2007, held about three times as many inmates as Invercargill as at June 30 this year.
The Corrections Minister is defending a major decrease in the number of prisoners going through drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes. (First published June 24, 2021)
Invercargill Prison holds minimum to low-medium security prisoners, while the Otago jail is classified as low to high-medium security.
The department spokesperson said there are 78 Corrections officers at Invercargill Prison and a total of 106 staff on site, which compared with other sites of a similar size and security classification.
“…any decisions made in the future that affects the men in prison will be done on a case-by-case basis, giving consideration to employment, education and treatment needs and the ability for their family and friends to continue visits with them.”
Corrections South Island acting southern regional commissioner Chris O’Brien-Smith earlier said the reduction in the prison population had reduced the demand for beds.
“This has provided an opportunity for us to consider moving some men residing at Invercargill Prison to newer accommodation that better matches their security classification, and improves their access to employment, education and rehabilitation programmes,” O’Brien-Smith said.
Invercargill Prison becoming remand only was an option, she said.
Corrections were engaged with their union partners on a proposal and no final decisions would be made until early next year, but it was not proposed that the prison close and the changes would not involve any staff jobs being lost, O’Brien-Smith earlier said.