Inmates at risk if prison youth units close - advocate

Source: 1News

Advocates say some of our most vulnerable prison inmates could be put at risk if two youth units in Christchurch and Hawke’s Bay are closed to make way for Covid quarantine facilities.

On Wednesday, young prisoners in Christchurch were told about the possible closure, which will see them moved into the mainstream prison population at different facilities around the country.

The Christchurch men’s prison youth unit isn't just about punishment, it's about a second chance too.

“Yesterday I saw some very tough young boys scared really scared,” youth unit volunteer Bronwyn Adams-Hooper said.

She works closely with them and hates the thought of young men aged 18 to 21 being shifted into mainstream cell blocks

“They'll be in gangs within weeks because else they're not going to be safe,” she said.

Corrections says space has to be made for a possible Covid outbreak and it's working through the options.

“No final decision has been made, we're narrowing those decisions down, they are tough decisions and we are going to have to make some tough choices,” Corrections chief custodial officer Neil Beales said.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says he's concerned about the disruption to young inmates and he's not supportive of them being moved to general population. He's seeking assurances all options for their accommodation are being considered.

“We would have to have an individual risk assessment done on each of those young men,” he said.

Defence lawyer Nicola Hansen spoke to her teenage client in the Christchurch unit on Thursday morning.

“Some of these young men were in tears,” she said.

She's concerned about his future safety, despite assurances.

“I just cannot comprehend how they could possibly be sending young people into mainstream prison populations it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Hansen said.

They want another quarantine solution to be found.

“If we put these young men across to mains they're going to be in the prison system for a very, very long time that’s a high price to pay,” Adams-Hooper said.