Five Corrections dog teams from five different prisons have graduated as fully qualified drug detector dogs. Three of the dogs are brothers and two were fostered by prisoners at Christchurch Women’s Prison when they were puppies.

The dogs are qualified to search cells, buildings, visitors, property, mail and general prison areas. They will work at prison check points (in the carpark) and search prison grounds including areas behind the wire. The dogs are slowly introduced to the odour of the drugs and work on a reward system.

“Drug detector dogs play an important part in the team to keep our prisons free from contraband,” says Ray Van Beynen, Director of Intelligence and Tactical Operations. “Keeping prisons free from drugs and other contraband helps to ensure the safety of our staff and prisoners in our care. It also contributes to our overall goal of reducing re-offending.”

Left to right: Peter Dalrymple-Mortleman and Kobi; Craig Millynn and Tai; Werna Botha and Bo; Northern Region Supervisor and Instructor Chris Martin; Instructor Sergeant Alan Campbell; Marc Kilmister and Zoe; Carol Robertson and Maia; and Practice Leader Senior Sergeant Chris Best.The dogs are trained to sniff out cannabis, heroin and methamphetamine among other drugs. Because they are trained to identify where there is odour they often can tell if drugs have been used, regardless of whether physical drugs are located. Prisoners who have been taking drugs, or are in possession of drugs, are disciplined and held to account.

These dogs have piloted a twelve month training programme. Ray says this training method has proven more successful. He likens it to studying for an exam. “When you learn over a long period of time, rather than cramming, you are more likely to retain the information,” he says.

Previously handlers would be given a dog around the age of 12–18 months old and then complete a nine week course in Trentham run by the NZ Police Dog Section. Now handlers are given an eight week old pup and start training straight way, delivered by Corrections staff with support from Police. The further training of the dogs is Corrections-specific.

The dogs form a close bond with their handlers; they work together, live together and play together. “Trust is essential to any working relationship and theirs is no different,” says Ray. “The dogs and handlers trust each other completely and together they make our prisons safer environments.”

The new teams will be based in Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility, Spring Hill Corrections Facility, Whanganui Prison, Rimutaka Prison and Otago Corrections Facility. The five handlers are all experienced dog handlers whose previous dogs were retired due to age or medical issues. The retired dogs have all been adopted by new families.