Corrections Minister's 'worst case scenario' of prisoners sleeping on gym floors sparks shock and surprise

First it was double bunking, now the Government is floating the idea of prisoners sleeping on mattresses on the floor of jail gymnasiums.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis's suggestion has sparked shock and surprise just a day after a scaled-down plan for Waikeria Prison was unveiled.

"In a worst case scenario if there weren't enough beds in a prison then we'd have to look all available spaces in a prison. And so places such as the prison gymnasium might have to be used a mass dormitory and there may have to be mattresses on the floor," Mr Davis said.

It was an idea that could occur following a natural disaster, it was stressed. 

National's police spokesman Chris Bishop says the idea is astonishing and he's told the Government to "swallow your pride, build the prison".

As jails struggle to cope with the increasing prison population, the Government has rejected National's plan for a mega prison in Waikeria, south of Hamilton, opting instead to build a new 600-bed facility and mental health unit. 

And it wants to reduce the number of prisoners by 30 per cent in the next 15 years.

The Corrections Minister describes the gym proposal as an "ugly solution".

"We don't think that we're going to get to a situation where we don't have enough beds," Mr Davis said.

Tania Sawicki Mead, director of the justice lobby group Just Speak says the idea is degrading.

"It's not acceptable to put people in situations which degrade their human dignity, and sleeping on a gymnasium floor is one obvious instance of that," she said. 

As Labour vows to reduce the prison population, it's also promising to put an extra 1800 police officers on the beat - 700 of those will be focused on going after the gangs.

National says that will surely lead to an increase in the prison population and the pledges don't add up.

"The Minister wants to smash the gangs, he wants to lock up criminal gang members. That's great, but you've also got to build the prison capacity," Mr Bishop said.

Police Minister Stuart Nash said: "You get on top of the meth crime, you take out the guys who are dealing meth, who are driving meth into our communities, then what you end up doing is preventing a whole lot of crime that goes on."

The Police Commissioner, Mike Bush, is confident more cops won't lead to more prisoners.

"We have the operating model to ensure that doesn't occur. And we have proved in the past, in Counties Manukau, that it didn't occur," he said.

Kelvin Davis called the gym proposal an "ugly solution", but one that could occur following a natural disaster. Source: 1 NEWS

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Search for crewman missing from Sealord ship off Wairarapa coast called off

The search for a crewman who went missing from a Sealord ship yesterday has been called off following deteriorating weather conditions in the area, the company said today in a statement.

The crewman, named as Patahi Rewi Hawaikirangi Kawana Jnr, 25, disappeared from the FV Otakou at mid-morning yesterday.

Sealord were today advised by Maritime New Zealand that the inclement weather contributing to the decision to call off the search at around 4pm.

Maritime New Zealand suspended their search at approximately 8pm yesterday.

Two Sealord vessels remained searching in the area until the early hours of this morning, when the weather conditions made it unsafe to continue.

Next of kin have been notified.

"Sealord is deeply saddened by this tragic event and extends their sympathy and support to the family and friends of Patahi, crew of Otakou and Sealord staff," the company said.

Sealord has begun its own internal investigation into yesterday's incident.

Sealord's Otakou
Sealord's Otakou Source: Sealord

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Road closed after large sinkhole found in South Auckland

A South Auckland road has been closed after a large sinkhole opened up.

Manurewa's Alfriston Rd is closed between Saralee Dr and Porchester Rd until further notice after it was discovered around 6pm, Auckland Transport said on Twitter.

An Auckland spokesperson told 1 NEWS the sinkhole is believed to have been caused by a failed water culvert half a metre under the road, but investigators will confirm the exact cause when repair work begins on Monday.

"Contractors will be on-site to conduct traffic control," the agency said.

Alfriston College students have been advised to allow for extra travel time early next week, while all other motorists have been advised to consider using an alternative route or avoid the area if possible.


A road closure sign in front of a Police vehicle
A road closure sign in front of a Police vehicle. Source: 1 NEWS

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More than $200 million in welfare fraud committed, including $614k by one person

More than $200 million of the $1.5 billion debt beneficiaries owe the Ministry of Social Development is down to fraud, raising questions about the ministry's oversight.

1 NEWS has been leaked details of the 10 largest welfare frauds as at the end of last year.

The largest individual amount stolen from the ministry that's yet to be paid back is $614,000.

ACT party leader David Seymour is not surprised.

"I'm not surprised one person's done $600,000 of fraud in a culture when the taxpayer has unlimited responsibility and beneficiaries have no ultimate consequences," he told 1 NEWS.

Former Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei became the face of benefit fraud when she admitted claiming payments she wasn't entitled to.

She wasn't prosecuted - but that's not usually the case.

Nine of the ten people with the highest debt have been convicted and sentenced to prison or home detention for benefit fraud as at the end of last year.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said, "We don't want to be in the game of prosecuting people. But the reality is we have legal obligations, and where people have done wrong, where they've claimed money where they shouldn't have knowingly then it leads down the prosecution track."

Half a million people now owe the ministry $1.5 billion.

But it's not just fraud, as $729 million is for overpayments and $486 million for 'recoverable assistance'.

National's Social Development spokesperson, Louise Upston, says National "would want to see that MSD are working closely with them".

Ricardo Menendez March of Auckland Action Against Poverty said, "If benefits weren't so low people wouldn't be needing so much additional supplementary assistance to begin with."

The welfare system is now under review and the minister in charge admits it needs work.

"We've got the technology now to try to make things a lot more tighter than what they've been in the past. And we've got to work towards doing that. As a Government we're focused on a fairer welfare system," Ms Sepuloni said.

Mr Seymour says there's only one way to tackle welfare debt and fraud.

"The only way to do this is to have cashless welfare. Give people a card that can be used for select purposes only. Otherwise all you can do is hand out more and more money," he said.

The Government has promised a more compassionate approach, though beneficiaries will have to wait to find out exactly what that means.

The largest individual amount stolen from the Ministry of Social Development that’s yet to be paid back is $614,000. Source: 1 NEWS


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