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A significant number of high security prisoners will be moved to Otago Corrections Facility after the closure of two Christchurch units that are no longer fit for purpose.
About 80 high security prisoners at Christchurch Men’s Prison will be moved to the Milburn facility, near Milton, and about 40 low security prisoners from Otago Corrections Facility (OCF) and Christchurch Men’s Prison will be moved to Rolleston Prison.
A small number of men will be moved between sites each week.
The transfers were expected to be finished by mid-September, the Department of Corrections said.
Transfers had been expected to start this week, but Corrections said it had temporarily paused movements to "allow more time for further engagement with our union partners and to ensure any movements are managed safely".
OCF has a total capacity of 454 prisoners, 291 of which are high security spaces.
As of yesterday there were 85 vacant high security beds, and a further 50 were occupied by low security prisoners.
The prison had 321 men on site as of yesterday.
Acting regional commissioner Glenn Morrison said the reduction in the prison population had eased pressure on the prison network.
That had provided an opportunity for Corrections to consider moving some men residing in prisons in the southern region to newer accommodation that better matched their security classification.
Since its peak of 10,820 in March 2018, the number of people in New Zealand prisons has decreased by more than 20% to 8260.
The move would create the staffing model to enable the new modular units at Rolleston Prison to open, and would allow Corrections to close the Matai, Kauri, and Rawhiti high security units at Christchurch Men’s Prison.
Those units were more than 100 years old and no longer able to meet the needs of prisoners and staff.
"We know that providing higher quality, fit-for-purpose environments improves the wellbeing of prisoners and sets them up to make positive changes to their lives.
"In the short term, these units may be reopened if the demand for beds at the site increases, but in the long term they will be decommissioned."
The transfers would also maximise attendance at programmes tailored for high security men at OCF, and programmes tailored for low security men at Rolleston Prison, Mr Morrison said.
The high security prisoners moved to OCF would be able to relocate back to prisons in Canterbury as their security classification reduced, or as they neared the end of their sentence, so they could access programme and training opportunities for lower security prisoners and prepare for reintegration into the community if they were to be released in Canterbury.
The decision to move any prisoner would be made on a case-by-case basis, he said.
"Consideration will be given to each man’s employment, education and treatment needs and the ability for their family and friends to continue visits with them, as well as how best to safely and securely manage the prison population in the Southern Region."
Where men were moved away from their families, Corrections would ensure they could maintain contact through increased frequency of virtual visits, he said.
Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan said he had received assurances those prisoners shifted to OCF would not be released in the area.
A community liaison group had been established for the community to air concerns.
He said OCF’s good record, and the other measures put in place, should assuage any concerns about the impact of the transfers.
Corrections Association president Alan Whitley said staff would be highlighting the need for appropriate infrastructure at OCF during consultation.