No positive results from random drug tests conducted over the last ten months at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility in Manukau has proven that the methods used to secure the prison’s borders are working.
“Since July last year we haven’t had a single general random test return a positive result. This is a fantastic achievement, but I am mindful that only one test could change it,” says Prison Manager Agnes Robertson.
“Nationally results have also fallen to 10.5 per cent – the lowest they have ever been. We know a zero result doesn’t mean that there are no drugs at all in Auckland Women’s – but with no way to cheat the test or the results, the measures we have in place to stop contraband being accessible are working.”
General random urine tests are conducted across all 20 prisons in New Zealand, with around 80 tests being carried out every week. The names of prisoners to be tested are randomly selected by a computer programme at Corrections’ National Office in Wellington that uses a pre-defined algorithm for selection. Staff supervise the tests to ensure they aren’t tampered with, and samples are sent to an external laboratory for analysis.
If a prisoner returns a positive test they become ‘IDU’ – an identified drug user. A prisoner who is IDU may be excluded from some work parties, have their access to treatment programmes restricted, possibly face internal charges and conduct visits with family and friends through the plexi-glass screen of a booth.
“The key is prevention. Prisoners can’t take drugs if we stop drugs getting inside.”
“We are a new facility, opened in 2006. Because we are new our security is sophisticated in comparison to older institutions such as Mt Eden Prison. We have a highly secure perimeter, which has a taut wire fence topped with electrical wires and motion sensors.
"There is only one controlled point of entry to the prison and all staff, contractors and visitors to the site pass through this entrance. Every person must pass through a metal detector and have their belongings scanned too, similar to what happens at airports.
"We also have a number closed circuit television cameras which allow us to watch over the entire prison.”
While physically the design of the site helps keep contraband on the outside, staff are also responsible for tiny and easy to conceal substances like methamphetamine being kept from the hands of women who may have long histories of drug abuse, or even drug-related offending that has led to their time in prison.
“We have increased the amount of searches we carry out. We search absolutely everything – prisoners’ cells, visitors’ cars, staff and their possessions, courier drivers’ vans, incoming mail and property dropped off for prisoners. We also use a drug dog to help us do this – the dogs are trained to detect certain odours down to parts per trillion so they make a significant contribution.”
“The number of prison checkpoint operations we conduct has increased, as has our use of information from the Operational Intelligence team – who monitor prisoners’ phone calls and collate information that helps us know who to target in our searches. We have also changed the processes around prisoners’ trust accounts and how much they can spend on phone cards and cigarettes after we detected these items being traded for drugs, and prisoners being ‘stood over’ or intimidated by other prisoners.”
“Keeping drugs out of prison doesn’t just give us a nice statistic to herald. It means a safer environment for our staff to work in, a safer prison for women to be managed in, and a safer community for the public through a sustained effort to provide women with substance abuse issues the chance to get clean and possibly undertake treatment, leading to a reduced risk of reoffending for many.”
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