Inmates at New Zealand’s new maximum-security prison will have access to a sensory garden with native plants, a waterfall and rock feature.

The garden is part of the new NZ$300 million ($200 million) Auckland Prison, which has been designed to transform how the country treats its most serious offenders.

New Zealand’s Department of Corrections CEO Ray Smith described the facility as “decent”, “humane” and “world class”.

Auckland Prison visitor centre
Image: Auckland Prison

The sensory garden – the first of its type to be built in a New Zealand jail – provides a space for the prisoners to walk or sit in a natural environment (although the turf is artificial).

Most of the cells are equipped with a television, shower and toilet. There is also a bank of computers – which prison authorities say will help inmates keep up with skills needed in the workplace – as well as an industry training area and a kiosk where prisoners can buy personal items such as birthday cards.

Free-to-air television channels are available, along with two internal Corrections' channels showing documentaries, which include yoga instruction.

“Yoga helps prisoners self reflect, manage their emotions and occupy their time productively which helps them better engage in their other rehabilitation, employment and education programmes offered by Corrections,” Jessica Chaplin of Corrections Communications, tells the World Economic Forum.

“91% of prisoners in New Zealand have a lifetime diagnosis of a mental health or addiction issue hence the focus on management and treatment of acute mental health issues,” Chaplin adds. “The new facility is significantly safer for our staff; and there are much better opportunities for the delivery of education, employment and rehabilitation programmes.”

Image: Auckland Prison

The cells have exterior windows to let in natural light, and horizontal rather than vertical bars.

Auckland Prison is New Zealand’s only specialist facility for maximum- and high-security male offenders. While critics argue that conditions in the new building are too luxurious, Smith says that "if you just take things off people, you leave them with nothing to lose”.

New Zealand’s prison population

Image: World Prison Brief

New Zealand’s prison population has increased significantly since 2000 when the government got tougher on criminals. The country has 220 prisoners to every 100,000 of the population: The overwhelming majority are men.

Around 16% of inmates are classed as high security, and 38.6% are in prison because they committed a violent crime.

Image: New Zealand Corrections

The new prison replaced an existing maximum-security jail which was nearly 50 years old. Although the project ran over schedule, prisoners are expected to be installed by October this year.