Selwyn Wilkinson was in full flight, telling tourists about
his time inside the Otago Corrections Facility at Milburn
when staff tapped on his van window.
The part-time tour operator was recounting how he and 59
others spent a night in the high security unit as a community
fundraiser before it opened - how a couple of people had
become claustrophobic and pushed the panic button and how
every couple of hours, a neon light came on and staff checked
they were ''still there''.
But the man who had previously helped put up signs declaring
Milton a ''town of opportunities'' had possibly taken the
slogan too literally. Prison staff were not impressed by his
spiel, telling him the place he had parked outside was not a
Another time, he says, he left his ute near the prison farm,
only to find out that police thought it might be a getaway
vehicle and had been ''all over it''.
Despite such incidents, the Milton Area Promotions president
has no strong opinion about the prison: ''You don't worry
about it. It's just there.''
Most people we contacted in Milton, 6km away, said the prison
had had a positive impact, bringing extra employment and new
families with spin-offs for school rolls and businesses. But
few could quantify the gains and those closest to the
facility told us they still harbour concerns.
Judy Black said prisoners released to work in local sawmills
went past her farm daily, making her wary, while fellow
neighbour Bernard Flannery was concerned about the type of
people the prison had brought into the town.
Before the prison was built, many residents anticipated a
boost to the economy, improved job opportunities and a rise
in property values, but a large number were also worried
about an influx of undesirable visitors.
More recently, a second survey looking at the social impact
of the prison has been completed. However, the Corrections
Department said the information was still being analysed and
would not be released until early next year.
Prison manager Jack Harrison said about 170 prison staff
lived in the Clutha district, with 84 of those in Milton and
the surrounding area. Of the remaining staff, about half
lived in Dunedin and half in Mosgiel.
Corrections did not buy a lot locally because it was tied
into national contracts but the annual wage bill for the
facility was about $16 million.
The property's conversion from a dairy farm was a windfall
for the Clutha District Council, which saw the capital value
soar and its annual rate take increase from about $5700 to
almost $69,000. On top of that, the Corrections Department
pays water and sewerage charges, based on usage.
Milton resident and former Mayor Juno Hayes said the
district's third-largest ratepayer had also spent about $5
million on infrastructure including the local water and
''It's all been positive in my view. It's a great asset,'' Mr
Hayes said. Clutha district councillor Joanna Lowrey said at
a time of economic downturn, the prison had not only employed
people directly but created more business for everyone from
tradesmen to the local medical centre.
Many of the staff originally commuted from Mosgiel or Dunedin
but five years down the track, they were ''over the
travelling'' and moving closer to their work - which was
important when the Clutha district had an ageing and
Cutlers sales consultant Jo Turnbull said house prices had
trebled when people heard the prison was going to be built
and dropped only slightly since. Even so, prison staff
selling up in Auckland could easily buy two or three houses
in Milton, where a ''good, basic three-bedroom home'' cost
$160,000 to $170,000.
The rental market had not taken off in the same way but older
houses were being replaced or renovated.
''It's caused growth in Milton, so it's got to be good.''
Other businesses reporting increased business from additional
people in town included a butchery, dairy and supermarket,
while a motel said it had Corrections staff staying regularly
and the local Stihl Shop has provided the department with
utility terrain vehicles, quad-bikes, chainsaws and brush
The Milton Volunteer Fire Brigade has been called there 10 to
15 times per year, almost always to false alarms from
vandalism in the remand wing.
Local primary schools have each gained a few extra children
and at Tokomairiro High School, 15 pupils from a roll of
about 270 have parents working at the prison.
Reported crime in Milton has increased, from 313 offences in
2007-8 to an average of 407 in each of the following three
years. But local police, who help with checkpoints outside
the prison once or twice a week, said fewer people than
initially feared had moved to the town to be closer to family
A couple of former prisoners were responsible for a spate of
burglaries after being released and were now serving more
time, Senior Constable Steve Griffiths said, but gangs had
not set up in Milton and he was not aware of any issues with
inmates released on a regular basis to work in the community.
Prison liaison officer Constable Judy Powell said there had
been instances of prisoners remaining in the town on their
release but it was probably easier for them to move to a
And Clutha district councillor Bruce Vollweiler did not think
the presence of the corrections facility had ''tarred''
Milton as a prison town.
Bob Jacklived 63 years on the farm where the prison is now
sited and said when his eldest son sold it, knowing it might
eventually become a ''jail'', the family was ''pretty
unpopular'' with some people.
''It was the old `not in my backyard' thing ... But some of
the ones who were most against it are quite happy now.''
However, Bernard Flannery, who lives in the former Milburn
Presbyterian Church, said he rented out a few houses and had
found it more difficult to find good tenants since the prison
He and wife Christine were also annoyed that some motorists
passing the facility tooted their horns, presumably to
acknowledge friends inside.
When they moved into the church 22 years ago, it was in the
''middle of nowhere'' but by gaining a change in land
designation, the Corrections Department had paved the way for
other enterprises such as sawmills and a truck servicing
depot to set up in the area.
And although it did not affect him personally, he believed
some of the jobs going to prisoners would be better given to
Siting the prison at Milburn rather than close to Dunedin had
cost more, Tokomairiro Awareness Group secretary Judy Black
said. The fuel costs involved in transferring inmates to and
from court were ''huge'' and the facility had quite a high
staff turnover so the department was ''always recruiting more
More recently, the community liaison group - which includes
police, council and community representatives - had stopped
the probation service opening a halfway house in Milton.
Members believed there were enough issues locally without
having people ''who've just come out of prison and putting
them all together in one place''.
The prison seemed relatively secure and neighbours had a good
relationship with the management.
''However, we are still aware that we've got something in our
community that is impacting [on us] ...
''It's on your mind every time someone passes - who is this,
why are they here and are they associated with the prison?
''I don't see many positives.''