The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs
The closure of units in Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons, and the subsequent estimated loss of 262 jobs has been openly conceded as a re-distribution of inmates to the new, privately run prison at Wiri. Corrections chief executive, Ray Smith, stated on 9 April;
“ I am also proposing to close units at three prisons – Rimutaka, Waikeria and Tongariro/Rangipo…
… With the opening of Auckland South Corrections Facility (at Wiri), and the subsequent reduction in pressure on prison capacity, we can now look at closing these end of life facilities.”
The Wiri facility will be managed by multi-national corporation, Serco, as a profit-making venture, paid by the tax-payer.
Smith has blamed the closures and redundancies on the Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons being “50 years old, surrounded by facilities that are 100 years old“. He claims “it would be uneconomic to bring them up to scratch“.
The closure of units at Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka is estimated to save the National government $165 million. This will be a godsend to Finance Minister Bill English, who admitted on 10 April that National’s much heralded promise of a budget surplus was looking more and more unlikely;
“ We’re (the Government) is continuing to manage the books carefully but lower inflation, while good for consumers, is making it less likely that the final accounts in October will show a surplus for the whole year.”
With the planned sale of state houses to the Salvation Army, and other social services, having collapsed, English’s expectation of reaping big cash dividends from the housing sell-of has evaporated.
As I wrote in October 2014;
Meanwhile, Bill English was outlining National’s true agenda, whilst Key was putting on his benign face to the New Zealand public. As TV3’s Brook Sabin reported,
“A big state-house sell-off is on the way, and up to $5 billion-worth of homes could be put on the block.
The shake-up of the Government’s housing stock will be a key focus for the next three years, with Finance Minister Bill English to lead it.
On the block is everything from a tiny 75 square metre two-bedroom state house in Auckland’s Remuera, on the market for $740,000, to a three-bedroom home in Taumarunui for just $38,000. Thousands more properties will soon hit the market.”
The reason for putting up to $5 billion-worth of homes on the block?
Crashing dairy prices had left a gaping hole in the National Government’s books, and their much-vaunted Budget surplus next year was under threat. Remember that Key was candid in the implications for the economy and the government’s tax-take; when he stated – also on 6 October;
“ It can have some impact because if that’s the final payout, the impact would be as large as NZ$5 billion for the economy overall, and you would expect that to flow through to the tax revenue, both for the 14/15 year and the 15/16 year. My understanding is Treasury is working on those numbers for the incoming Minister of Finance, which fortunately is the same as the outgoing Minister of Finance as well.”
Faced with the imminent sinking of one of National’s cornerstone election promises – a return to surplus by 2014/15 – $165 million saved by the closure of prison units will be a relief to an increasingly frustrated Bill English.
Key and English couldn’t flog of $5 billion of state housing to social services. So now they are looking at what is effectively privatisation-by-stealth with our prison services.
And bugger the inevitable consequences…
Five issues for the National govt
The closure of units at Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons will not be without dire consequences that impact on nearly every aspect of New Zealand society, regions, and the economy. Even the political landscape may be altered if this ill-considered plan goes ahead.
1. Sending “clients” to a private facility
There is something decidely immoral about up-rooting hundreds of prisoners whose freedom of movement and freedom of choice has been curtailed by State sanctions, and handed over into the hands of a private corporation – Serco – where the prime motivator is making a profit for shareholders. (Overseas shareholders, to be precise.)
In no way can this dystopian scenario be considered part of the “free market”, as all forms of choice have been removed from the prison “clients”.
Serco have been handed “clients” into their “care” whether wanted or not by the prisoners. Not since the slave trade from the 16th to 19th centuries have human being been treated as commodities by Western nations.
Make no mistake; private prisons turn human beings into “things”, to be used by business as investment commodities.
How long before prisoners are sold, bought, and traded by competing corporatised prisons? How long before their labour is sold to other businesses, for profit?
2. Regional economies and job losses
The loss of 262 jobs in Upper Hutt (Rimutaka), Waikeria, and Tongariro-Rangipo will impact considerably on those regional economies already badly hit by loss of industries, closed businesses, population moving away, and continuing down-turn in the dairy industry.
It is this sort of regional neglect that resulted in Northland voters abandoning the National Party and electing NZ First leader, Winston Peters, as their electorate MP.
Waipa District mayor, Jim Mylchreest, was frustrated and angry at National’s further under-mining of what remained of regional economies;
“ Here they are with a major change and not even bothering to let us know plans are afoot.
I assume that they’ve done their sums and it’s more efficient for them but they’re not looking at New Zealand in terms of what are the benefits to try and keep employment in the regions.”
Mayor Mylchreest has every right to be angry – closure of a high-security wing at Waikeria Prison will result in the loss of 148 jobs – creating considerable impact on nearby Te Awamutu (pop: 10,305), only sixteen kilometers away.
Is this how the National Party “supports” the regions?!
It seems that National has not learned a single thing from the Northland by-election.
Rimutaka may well be a safe Labour seat. But it also delivered 15,352 Party Votes for National – now at risk as Upper Hutt will be hard hit by job losses at Rimutaka Prison.
National may have mis-calculated the political fall-out from this move.
3. NZ First/Country Party
A loss of 262 jobs. Millions lost from regional economies. Small towns losing more people. Businesses closing, through lack of turn-over. Which, in a vicious circle leads to more job losses…
A recipe to increase NZ First’s re-positioning on the politicalk spectrum as a de facto “Country-Regional Party”?
It certainly sounds like it.
National may have handed Peters an early Christmas gift to campaign on. Disaffected voters seeing hundreds of jobs lost in their communities – with subsequent closures of down-stream businesses in their town Main Streets – may wonder why on Earth they should keep voting for National? What’s in it for them?
Not much it would seem.
“Vote National – Lose Your Job” would appear to be the new slogan for National for the 2017 elections.
I have no doubt that even as I write this, and you the reader are reading my words, that Winston Peters and his NZ First strategists are already working on how to maximise these events for their own political gain.
I have no doubt whatsoever; the “Northland Experience” will be repeated throughout the country – much to Winston Peters’ delight.
4. Prisoner’s families
National’s Corrections Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga has stated;
“ I understand that this proposal may be unsettling for affected staff but Corrections will have extensive support and assistance in place should the proposal go ahead. I also believe that the proposal reflects our commitment to providing safe and secure working conditions for staff and a safe and productive environment for prisoners.
Prisoners have a much better chance of successful rehabilitation in modern facilities where they have access to education, training and employment opportunities.
Being close to their families is an important factor in rehabilitation for some prisoners.”
However, transferring several hundred prisoners from as far afield as Rimutaka, to Auckland – a distance of some 650kms – is hardly “being close to their families” and one can only imagine how increasing isolation from family and community will give “prisoners […] a much better chance of successful rehabilitation”.
The distances involved are considerable, as this Corrections Department map illustrates;
Minister Lotu-Iiga needs to explain why he thinks that isolating prisoners in this manner, can possibly assist in their rehabilitation and reintergration back into their communities?
It seems that transferring prisoners out of their communities flies in the face of the Minister’s assertions.
It may also prove more expensive, as prisoner’s families make increased calls upon the Child Travel Fund;
The Child Travel Fund provides financial support to eligible children traveling to visit a parent in prison. The fund also supports parents traveling to visit a child who is under 18 years of age and in prison.
Does National even care?
They should. Increasing prisoner’s alienation from family and communities undermines every effort made by the judicial/corrections system to rehabilitate prisoners.
It should definitely be cause for concern for the corporate managers of Wiri, for whom rehabilitation and reduced re-offending is part of their contract, according to Corrections chief executive, Ray Smith;
“ They can earn up to $1.5 million in incentive payments if they can reduce the rate of reoffending by up to 10 percent more than the department can do.”
According to Derek Cheng at the Herald, writing three years ago;
For Wiri, Serco will face stiff financial penalties if it does not meet rehabilitation targets – which will be set at 10 per cent lower than public prisons.
The Corrections Department has a target to reduce re-offending by 10 per cent. If that is achieved, Wiri would have to achieve a rate 20 below the current rates or face fines, which have yet to be set.
Though Finance Minister Bill English – quoted in Scoop at around the same time – was more cautious;
“It will also face financial penalties if it fails to meet short-term rehabilitation and reintegration measures including prisoner health and employment targets, and safe, secure and humane custodial standards.”
However, speaking to Paul Henry on Radio Live, Corrections chief executive, Ray Smith, was more circumspect when asked directly what penalties were involved in prisoners re-offended after release;
Henry: “If rehabitation rates, if recidivism rates deteriorate, is there a penalty?”
Smith: “Well they just can’t earn the incentive payment if they can’t [meet the targets(muffled)].”
Henry: “So there isn’t actually a penalty?”
Smith: “[Stuttered words]...the penalties are associated with failure on security. The incentives are geared towards having to actually achieve better outcomes than the Department.”
So unlike penalties associated with prisoner escapes, where Serco actually has to pay the government, the only “penalty” associated with not meeting rehabilitation targets is foregoing $1.5 million in incentive payments?
Under the contract to manage Wiri, it appears that the “penalty” is foregoing incentive payments.
The two “penalties” are not exactly the same and Minister English was being less than clear when he referred to Serco facing “financial penalties“.
Repeating the question – does National care? Not in the least, one may rightly guess. After all, chances are that National will no longer be in government when the ‘chickens come home to roost’ on this little social time bomb, and John Key will be writing his memoirs somewhere on an idyllic Hawaiian beach.
5. Relocating staff?
There seems to be confusion as to what will happen to the 262 staff who will lose their jobs from Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons.
In his interview with Paul Henry on Radio Live on 10 April, Corrections CEO Ray Smith offered to do his best to find replacement jobs at other facilities for 262 redundant staff.
Suggestions that staff would be relocated to Auckland, with a “$20,000 relocation assistance-payment” appears to be farcical for two reason;
1. $20,000 payment to a Corrections staffmember living in a small town, where properties are worth considerably less than the over-heated Auckland housing market, is unhelpful. There is a worsening housing shortage in Auckland, and it seems to be verging on incompetence for this government to be adding to the housing problem by encouraging more workers and their families to move to the the city, thereby adding to congestion.
2. According to various media reports, the new Wiri facility is already fully staffed;
And unfortunately for staff who will be laid off, the opening of a large new prison in South Auckland next month is no consolation as all jobs are already filled. – TV1 News
A new prison in south Auckland will pick up the relocated inmates, but it is already fully staffed. – TV3 News
Which makes this statement from Corrections Minister Lotu-Iiga unconvincing;
“It should also be noted that the number of prisoner places is not reducing and will in fact increase with the opening of [Wiri]. We will have a net increase of 433 beds.”
The closure of three facilities; 262 redundancies; and contracting out to a private provider all reeks of National’s mania for cost-cutting.
As with many other cost-cutting exercises, it is New Zealanders; their families; and economically-fragile regions and small towns, that are having to pay the price. Treating prisoners as commercial commodities adds a particularly nasty aspect to this exercise.
Meanwhile, foreign-owned Serco stands to gain $30 million of tax-payer’s money, per year, from managing the new Wiri prison.
Someone is benefitting, and it is not us.
Prison facts and statistics – December 2014
TV3 News: State housing sell-off worth $5B
National Party: Remaining on track to Budget surplus in 2014/15
Wikipedia: Te Awamutu
Election Results 2014: Official Count Results — Rimutaka
Department of Corrections: Sustainable Development Framework
Department of Corrections: Travel assistance for visits
NZ Herald: New private prison at Wiri given green light
Auckland Scoop media: Amazing promises for new Wiri prison: less offending, better safety, superior service
RadioLive: Around 260 staff face redundancy at Waikeria, Rangipo and Rimutaka prisons (audio)
Auckland Scoop media: Private operator of Mt Eden fined $150,000 for prison escape; security improvements made
TV3 News: Govt criticised over prison job cuts
Department of Corrections: Prison facts and statistics – December 2014
Previous related blogposts
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