Prisons have existed on this site for nearly a century. For the duration of the Second World War, conscientious objectors were detained here. In the 1950’s the site housed a prison farm which was further developed in the late 1970’s. The large size of the site – thousands of hectares of commercial and native forests, farms, wetlands and a river – meant that a perimeter fence was impractical, and the site was only ever suitable to house up to 600 inmates at a minimum to medium security level.
From 1998 the prison began to suffer repetitional damage, first involving a seizure of almost $1 million worth of cannabis plants growing on site, followed by the revelation that buckets were being used in place of toilets, two inmate drownings involving Maori cultural training, canoes and parachutes, and the conviction of a prison guard for supplying cannabis to a prisoner in return for a bribe.
The closure of this unit – one of four we visited as the autumn sun was falling fast – was announced in 2012, and the land and its buildings have now been returned to their original owners. No signs of the commencement of demolition were evident, and – gratifyingly – no signs yet of vandalism. A 360 degree panoramic mural painted around the walls of the dining hall conveys a sense of geographical placement among the majestic landscapes beyond the perimeter of confinement, tantalisingly out of reach.