The Department of Corrections says a new system to calculate a prisoner’s security classification will improve public safety and further reduce the number of escapes.
Prison Services Assistant General Manager Operations Leanne Field says that while the number of break-out escapes has declined significantly in the last ten years, the Department is concerned by the number of escapes where prisoners have walked away from work parties or from other employment in the community.
“When we reviewed a number of these escapes, it became clear that the current system was not as effective as it could be at identifying a prisoner’s likelihood of escape and we needed to make improvements,” says Mrs Field.
“It is our duty to ensure that prisoners remain in our custody. When a prisoner escapes we have failed in our duty. This is unacceptable not only to ourselves but also the public of New Zealand.
“The new system, which was rolled out over the weekend, calculates the risk a prisoner presents outside the prison perimeter differently. The new system takes a broader range of factors into account and focuses more on escape prevention.
“For example, age has been found to be a strong escape risk factor. Under the new system, offenders under 25 will be classified as a higher risk of escape and will therefore be less likely to work outside unless there are exceptional circumstances or they are under close supervision.
“Other factors taken into account include type of offence, sentence length, whether a prisoner is subject to extradition, deportation or a removal order and their number of previous sentences."
The new classification increases the number of security categories from four to five: Minimum, Low, Low-Medium, High and Maximum. A maximum security classification will also be introduced for female prisoners.
Mrs Field says the changes will tighten the criteria that a prisoner must meet to be considered for employment in a work party outside the prison perimeter.
“Before prisoners are placed in work parties they are subject to a rigorous selection process and must have demonstrated a positive response during their time in custody. Low-Medium security prisoners will not be eligible to work outside the prison perimeter and Low security prisoners will only be able to be employed on specific work parties that have a high level of supervision,” says Mrs Field
“Employment plays an integral role in reducing re-offending because it provides prisoners with meaningful real-life work experience such as farm labouring and forestry. The changes to the way the security classification is calculated will ensure only the very lowest risk prisoners will be employed in these activities."
Mrs Field warns that while the new security classification system will improve the security of work parties, it does not entirely eliminate the risk of escape.
“Even with the best systems in place, there will always be an occasion where a prisoner acts in a way that was completely unforeseen and escapes. However, the new system will minimise the risk and should see the already record low number of escapes fall further.”
Notes to reporter:
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