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The Department of Corrections yesterday would not confirm it was investigating turning the Invercargill Prison into a remand centre only, or if there were other options being investigated.
Southern acting regional commissioner Chris O’Brien-Smith said said any changes would be done with the consideration of the prisoner foremost in mind.
"The changes we are making will ensure that prisoners are in the most appropriate accommodation for them, increase their access to employment, education and rehabilitation programmes, and improve the working conditions of our staff," he said.
"The decision to move any prisoner will be made on a case-by-case basis.
"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."
Ms O’Brien-Smith said Corrections would work to minimise the number of prisoners 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. We are also working on potential new ways we can support the men and their families to facilitate regular in-person contact."
The proposed changes were as a result of prison numbers dropping, she said.
There were 116 people incarcerated in the prison yesterday and 124 on the same day last year. The operational capacity for Invercargill prison was 135 inmates.
Corrections Association of New Zealand vice-president Paul Dennehy said yesterday the Department of Corrections had ideas and thoughts about the future of the prison.
"They haven’t provided us, despite repeated requests, with a formal proposal document which says everything that they’re thinking about, so we can consult on, and consult with our members on."
It was expected the union would receive the proposal before Christmas, he said.
While the union had seen a draft communication from Corrections advising it was looking at the proposal, staff first received information via a Stuff article published on Wednesday.
"Having this dropped on them in the manner it has been dropped on them, the week out from Christmas, is diabolical.
"We have updated our members saying that ‘there are rumours, but all we can tell you factually is the muster around the country is dropping and the department sees sites, such as Invercargill, as potentially not fit for purpose, but without the formal proposal document, we’re not going to speculate what their thinking is’."
Mr Dennehy understood the acting regional commissioner would visit staff in Invercargill next week. Union representatives would also be at that meeting, he said.
"Staff are very unhappy. It’s done nothing to help with anxiety at all. There is huge frustration.
"The impact is going to be potentially on their staff, on their futures, on their families, on the Invercargill economy but also on the prisoners."
Another concern was how prisoners, who thought they might be moved, would react to the news.