The Government’s announcements about prisons old and new are becoming more and more difficult to comprehend.
We recently heard that despite a levelling off of the prison muster, and the government’s professed confidence that they have in place strategies to reduce offending and recidivism, Ministers Tolley and English have nevertheless determined that we need yet another ‘fiscal and moral failure’, a 960-bed men’s prison at Wiri.
I invite you to do some arithmetic around the $900,000,000 Wiri proposal. This big number is supposed to be the maximum required to build, maintain and operate the prison (including a profit margin for the private consortium of Fletchers, Spotless and Serco) for 25 years.
Let’s assume that Bill English got it right when he suggested a capital cost of $250,000 per bed, despite that figure being markedly lower than the previously estimated cost of Wiri’s construction, in excess of $400 million. Giving the benefit of the doubt and assuming the lower figure, that accounts for $240 million of the $900 million total.
Spread the remainder over the life of the contract; build in some assumptions about the occupancy rate for the prison; assume (despite the lack of any evidence!) that the private operator can dramatically reduce the $93,000 cost per prisoner per year, and see if you can produce numbers that make sense.
My calculations tell me that either the prison is going to run at a very low occupancy rate, or Serco is expected to achieve some truly heroic savings, which could only come at the expense of maintaining acceptable conditions for staff and inmates.
We are now told that the Wiri prison is needed to replace capacity which will be lost with the closure of some of our older prisons, with Invercargill, New Plymouth and Wellington’s Mt Crawford being the likely candidates.
The combined capacity of those three sites is little more than half the proposed capacity at Wiri, which begs the question of which other sites will be closed. The degree of centralisation this would seem to entail is bad news for inmates and their families who might hope to maintain contact through visits while inmates serve their time, given the added costs of travel for people who are seldom well off financially. The available evidence is that reducing contact between inmates and their family and other support networks reduces the likelihood of rehabilitation and reintegration, whih is bad news for community safety and the economy.