18 Feb 2016

Warning that deportees will flood NZ prisons

11:39 am on 18 February 2016

The government is "completely underestimating" the number of Australian deportees who will enter New Zealand's overcrowding prisons, say those working in the system.

Mt Eden prison

Mt Eden prison Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Inmate numbers in New Zealand prisons are at an all time high, with 9323 prisoners, and a new Ministry of Justice report says it is planning for another 940 places over the next decade.

The increase could see more prisoners double-bunked or put in container cells to cope with the increase in prisoner numbers, according to Corrections Minister Judith Collins.

About 100 deportees from Australia were expected to be part of that increase over the next decade, but Criminal Bar Association president Tony Bouchier told Nine to Noon this was not a reasonable projection.

"We think they are completely underestimating it. They are people who are coming back to a completely foreign land, they've got no family or support and we think the numbers will be a lot higher. They are already offending because of the lack of support they are getting, and that will continue.

"There is only so much that the probation service can do with these people. They have absolutely no support here and are strangers in a strange land."

Mr Bouchier's fears were echoed by Auckland-based Prisoners' Aid and Rehabilitation Society (PARS).

Operations manager Rachel Ngatai said those being deported from Australia might be New Zealanders under the law, but they were Australians in reality.

"Although their circumstances are similar to domesticated prisoners who have been released, it's impacted more by the isolation. They don't know this country, they don't know the community, so while we put the measures in place to meet the immediate need, the impact is huge, because they don't know how to live in New Zealand."

Coping with a bigger prison population

While the Justice Minster was confident the prison system could cope with the overall increase in inmate numbers, Mr Bouchier said the system was not going to cope.

"Unless we pick up on Judith Collins' idea to move containers into our prisons and (we're) racking and stacking three or four people into a three metre by three metre cell - we look after our impounded dogs better than that.

"But the population is going to continue to grow, simply because politicians see votes in getting tough on crime and they can't be any more creative when they are addressing the crime issue in New Zealand. But our prison rates are an embarrassment to us."

He said the lack of mental health institutions was a major cause of the rise in prisoner numbers.

"One of the main reasons the prison muster is so high is that our prisons are our proxy for our mental health institutions which we no longer have. And everybody in criminal law will tell you this, from judges through to defence counsel, if there was another way to deal with these people through proper mental health facilities our muster would be a lot smaller.

He said that initiatives such as home detention and community dentition sentences were working and keeping hundreds of people out of prison, but this was balanced out by the three-strikes law, which was starting to take effect.

"We have got quite a number of people who are on their second strike now and the problem with that third strike is that there is no parole, so what we are going to be looking at is not only an increased prison muster, but a lot more prisoners serving long-term sentences, so that will increase the muster."