The Archbishop of York. Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop and former Governor General Sir Paul Reeves and the Bishop of Taranaki, Philip Richardson, made a three and hour half hour visit last week to New Plymouth Prison, the smallest and oldest in the country.
The visit was part of a week-long encounter with the life and cultures of the region leading up to Saturday's consecration of St Mary's Church as a cathedral for all Taranaki.
They were impressed by the professionalism, courtesy and humanity of the staff they met and the way they related to prisoners, and found the work of the two chaplains, Sister Margaret and The Rev Judy Clark, a source of inspiration.
The bishops understand the importance of New Plymouth retaining a local prison which allows prisoners from the region to maintain links with family, but the lack of resources which forces a 22 hour a day lock down was disturbing.
The bishops expressed special concern about the physical conditions of the older part of the prison and said the cramped cells built 150 years ago are a source of shame and disgrace for us all.
In their view, to house men in such claustrophobic conditions for months at a time, some of them as young as 17, many of them still on remand, is dehumanizing for inmates and staff alike.
The bishops have already made their concerns known to the appropriate authorities.