The Department of Corrections today confirmed significant steps are being undertaken to improve the security of external prison work parties.
Acting Prison Services Assistant General Manager Leanne Field says while the number of breakout escapes has declined significantly in the last ten years, the Department has been concerned by the number of escapes in recent years where prisoners have walked away from work parties.
“It is our duty to ensure that prisoners remain in our custody and when prisoners escape we have failed in our duty. This is unacceptable not only to ourselves but the public of New Zealand,” says Ms Field.
“To reduce the risk of walkaway escapes we completed a comprehensive review on the suitability of every prisoner who is engaged in employment outside the prison perimeter. This review has resulted in a small number of prisoners having their employment terminated.
“We are also critically looking at our security classification system to ensure that it is adequately capturing the risk a prisoner presents outside the prison perimeter, including the risk of them escaping.”
Ms Field says this work will be successful only if staff follow the systems, procedures and practices in place.
“To make sure this is happening, we are also undertaking work to improve our audit processes to ensure that staff are following established systems. This involves regular observation of activities to ensure compliance.
“We have also strongly reinforced to managers and staff that deliberate failure to follow policy is inexcusable and will lead to disciplinary action.
Ms Field says while this work will reduce the risk of walk away escapes, the risk cannot be eliminated.
“Work parties play in integral part in reducing re-offending because they help provide basic employment training and help prepare prisoners for release. Unfortunately there will always be a prisoner who acts in a way that is entirely unpredictable. We are committed to limiting this risk.”
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Notes to reporter:
Breakout escapes are defined as an escape where a prisoner has breached security measures and the prisoner has physically left the area contained by the most outermost perimeter fence or, if there is no such fence, prison buildings, police cell, court complex or other place of custodial security.
Walkaway escapes are when low security prisoners breach trust by walking from their place of supervision, for example, from a group working on a prison farm or while on work release.
The escape rate has been declining. In 1985/86, there were close to 150 escapes for only slightly over 3,000 prisoners (5% escape rate). In 2007/08 their were 23 escapes, which is approximately 0.29 per 100 prisoners. The majority of these escapes were walkaway escapes.
Since 1 July 2008 there have been 10 escapes. Of these, five involved a prisoner walking away from their work party.
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