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Corrections, Department—Confidence

Tuesday 9 September 2008 (advance copy) Hansard source (external site)

Power5. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) Link to this
to the Minister of Corrections

Does he have confidence in his department; if so, why?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Corrections) Link to this

Yes, much more confidence than was possible 9 years ago, when National was in Government, for the following reasons. With a significant improvement in prison security, the escape rate has fallen by a massive 84 percent. With better controls on the contraband that enters the prisons, drug tests show that the number of inmates who have taken drugs has fallen from an average of 34 percent in 1998, down to 14 percent—one-third of what it was. More inmates, some 60 percent of sentenced prisoners, are now in work, more are attending intensive drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and more are accessing literacy and numeracy programmes. Finally, I say that all of those advances have been achieved while the Department of Corrections has coped with 3,200 net additional inmates since 1999, a 71 percent rise because of the enactment of tougher laws and the provision of more police.

PowerSimon Power Link to this

Can he confirm that eight inmates from Auckland and Spring Hill prisons have been charged with involvement in a $5 million methamphetamine drug ring from behind bars, and can he also confirm that it has taken 7 years to introduce cellphone-blocking technology, that there are still only four prisons that have that technology, and that they do not include the Auckland and Spring Hill prisons?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF Link to this

What I can confirm is that because of better monitoring and intelligence work within the corrections system, Department of Corrections officers, working with police and customs officers, have now successfully cracked an external drug ring. This was much-praised work by the Department of Corrections and by the police, who say it will significantly interrupt methamphetamine production in the Auckland and North Island regions. On the second question, I say that although National did nothing for 9 years about cellphone use within prisons, by February next year every prison in our country will have cellphone jamming, a fact much admired by our colleagues across the Tasman, who are now working to emulate New Zealand’s example.

Benson-PopeHon David Benson-Pope Link to this

How effective has the Crime Prevention Information Capability strategy, recently developed by the Department of Corrections, been?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF Link to this

It has been very effective, indeed. The goal was to detect, to prevent, and to prosecute crimes, using intelligence gathered within the prison system. We know that a very large number of gang leaders and members of organised crime are now imprisoned. They endeavour to continue to commit crime from within prison, and what the Department of Corrections has successfully done, through monitoring telephone calls and through other intelligence-gathering work, has been to prosecute cases against those inmates and to assist the police in very effective operations to disrupt organised crime. I congratulate the Department of Corrections on that achievement.

PowerSimon Power Link to this

Can the Minister confirm that at this time last year the previous Minister, Damien O’Connor, stated that cellphone-blocking technology would be in all prisons by now, but that that is now not expected to occur for another 6 months; and can he confirm further that Auckland Central Remand Prison used to be the only prison that had cellphone blocking, but that that ended when the Government cancelled the private management of that prison?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF Link to this

No, I cannot confirm that, but I can confirm that already seven prisons have cellphone jamming or have that system being installed. Not one prison in Australia, including the private contracted prisons, has yet got to that point.

PowerSimon Power Link to this

Can the Minister confirm that the monitoring of all landline calls made by inmates started only in June this year, yet the enabling legislation was passed in October 1999; and why did nothing happen for so long, when an internal memo from 2004 warned: “The fact that legislation is in place and no monitoring is occurring is a continued risk for the department’s credibility.”?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF Link to this

What I can confirm is that although there was absolutely no telephone monitoring at all under 9 years of the last National Government, every telephone call made from a pay phone in every prison in New Zealand is now recorded, and calls are monitored on a targeted basis and a random basis. I have had the opportunity to listen in to some of those calls while information that implicated people in gang activity outside the prison was carefully recorded, taken down for use in evidence, and later used to convict organised criminals outside the prison.

PowerSimon Power Link to this

Does the Minister stand by his statement in October 1999 that “We are left with a situation where there are no constraints on cellphones in prisons other than security measures, which have proven utterly inadequate in detecting cellphones.”, and does that mean that in the decade that it has taken for his Government to block cellphones in all prisons, security measures have continued to be “utterly inadequate”?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF Link to this

Just to correct the member, I say this Government will not have had a decade in Government until about this time next year. I say to that member his Government failed utterly to put anything in place to jam telephones. Not only did that Government not jam telephones but also I have a copy of a remark made by the chief executive of the prison system in the last year of the National Government, stating that our maximum security prison, Pāremoremo prison, had a fence around it not to stop prisoners escaping but just to slow them down on the way out. I have a report from Manawatū Prison, admitted to be correct by Nick Smith, the then Minister of Corrections, that 42 percent of the inmates in Simon Power’s local Manawatū Prison were on drugs. Forty-two percent of inmates at that prison were on drugs, and 41 percent of inmates at Rimutaka Prison were on drugs. Simon Power’s local paper, the Evening Standard, said a typical week at Manawatū Prison would see 20 to 30 nocturnal visitors climb the six-wire fence, reach through the window at Manawatū Prison, and pass drugs through the window. That was the shambles that we inherited from Simon Power’s Government, even in his own patch.

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