A state of the art prison, where the most violent and dangerous offenders can spend their days practicing yoga, sunbathing in the grass and tending to their own herb gardens, is set to open in New Zealand.
The “humane” jail, on the outskirts of Auckland, cost a whopping NZ$300 million (AU$275 million) to complete and is the first of its kind in the country. The prison will be run as a “defacto mental health unit” and will be the only specialist facility for maximum-security male offenders in New Zealand.
New Zealand has one of the highest incarceration rates in the developed world, with Māori people accounting for more than half of all prisoners, despite representing only 15% of the overall population. While an overwhelming majority have a life-long diagnosis of mental illness or addiction.
Auckland East will partially replace the existing Paremoremo Prison, which was modelled on the likes of Alcatraz in the USA. Neil Beales, corrections chief custodial officer, told The Guardian that the new prison would be “more decent and humane” than the existing facility in the hope of successfully rehabilitating more criminals.
Beales said: “The old prison was built for staff to be kept away from prisoners and prisoners away from staff … even though we are dealing with prisoners who display very challenging behaviours, the facilities do not necessarily need to be austere or oppressive.
“Rehabilitation and reintegration has to start the minute that they come into prison: because they are going to leave prison. And if we don’t have a facility where we can do good programmes we are unlikely ever to see a decline in the prison numbers that we ultimately want.”
The new Auckland East prison will offer a range of holistic and therapeutic features similar to those already utilised by Scandinavian countries, such as Norway and Sweden, ultimately allowing prisoners more freedom.
Cells in the new block are 30 per cent bigger and are fitted with their own showers and TVs, as well as horizontal bars providing inmates with a clearer view of the outside world. Prisoners will also be able to get their hands dirty in the seed propagation garden, or enjoy some downtime in the sensory garden.
At Bastoy Prison, in Norway, prisoners are allowed to live and work as they would upon their release, with the country boasting the lowest rates of recidivism in the world. Bastoy, which sits on an island south of Norway, is known as the ‘world’s nicest prison’ due to its seemingly homey conditions, with convicts holding keys to their rooms and no armed guards or fences surrounding the jail.
There is also a beach where prisoners can sunbathe and some of the 115 prisoners, all of whom are serving time for serious crimes such as rape and murder, stay in wooden cottages.
Recently, UK Justice Secretary David Gauke called for a change in the justice system in Britain to provide prisoners with “hope” for the future. Gauke told The Telegraph that detention should “change the lives” of offenders and said the current justice system, where jail is seen solely as a tool for “punishment” and “retribution”, is no longer efficient.