Contraband in prisons

The safety and security of our prisons, staff, visitors, and prisoners is our top priority. We place significant emphasis on preventing and detecting contraband in prisons, and we are constantly working to stay one step ahead of new methods used to introduce contraband.

Contraband can pose significant safety and security risks. We operate regular checkpoints of staff, contractors and visitors to prisons, alongside a wide range of other methods to prevent contraband from entering prisons. These include:

  • using scanners and x-ray machines at entry points
  • extensive prison perimeter security
  • camera surveillance in prison visit rooms, along perimeter fences and at entry points
  • requiring prisoners to wear closed overalls when in visiting areas to prevent contraband being hidden on them
  • checking prisoner mail and property for contraband
  • random and targeted monitoring of prisoner telephone calls
  • specialist detector dog teams that patrol prison perimeters, visitor areas and cells
  • banning visitors who attempt to bring contraband into prisons

When a person in prison is found to be in possession of contraband, they are charged with an internal misconduct and, depending on the type of item found, are referred to the New Zealand Police who are responsible for laying criminal charges. If a visitor is found to be in possession of contraband, they are issued with a notice prohibiting the person from entering prison grounds for a specified timeframe. Depending on the type of contraband, this could be escalated to the New Zealand Police.

Data set for contraband in prison – national and by prison

Quarterly statistics for contraband in prison are available to view below. The data provided for the current financial year is as at 31 March 2024, and is subject to change until the full-year process has been completed.

Contraband in prisons includes alcohol, communication devices, drugs, drug paraphernalia, tattoo equipment, tobacco, tobacco paraphernalia, weapons, and other miscellaneous items that people in prison could use in inappropriate ways. Refer to the data set for specific definitions of contraband categories.

This data includes contraband items confiscated from prisoners or visitors, and any items found on prison property but not directly linked to an individual. Where multiple items are found in a single search, they are reported as a single incident if they all fall within the same category. Alternatively, if contraband from different categories is found, these are reported as an incident under each relevant category.

There are fluctuations in the amount of contraband seized at sites, and there is not one clear reason for this. Factors that can influence the amount of contraband seized at sites include site access, the physical location of sites, and the number of prisoners undertaking external employment either through our Release to Work programmes or external work parties.

As at 31 March 2024, for the 2023/24 financial year, there were 5,793 incidents involving contraband finds. The finds can likely, in part, be attributed to the resumption of certain activities that had previously been suspended due to the impact of COVID-19, such as our Release to Work programmes and visits (which resumed in various forms at all prisons during the year), as well as significant increases in the number of prisoners as part of our work consolidating the prison population into fewer units.

Download contraband in prisons data XLSX, 1.1 MB