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Drugs among Hawke's Bay jail haul

By Corey Charlton

About 565 contraband items including home-made weapons, cigarettes, pornography and drugs have been unearthed at Hawke's Bay Prison in the past financial year.

Among the illegal items were more than 20 sharpened plastic utensils, shanks and other improvised cutting and stabbing weapons.

Figures released to Hawke's Bay Today under the Official Information Act, showed of the 565 discoveries, 21 were improvised stabbing or cutting weapons.

The most common home-made knife found were those fashioned from sharpened plastic utensils, while more creative prisoners had formed blades from, among other things, a toilet brush, a metal bar and a broom handle. Many were hidden and found inside prisoners' cells, while others were located in stereos, toilets, a sprinkler system and an inmate's shoe.

Corrections Services national commissioner Jeremy Lightfoot said such discoveries were treated with "utmost seriousness" and all prisoners found with contraband were held accountable and could be charged with misconduct.

"Examples of internal misconduct include loss of privileges, forfeiture of earnings and cell confinement. Serious allegations are referred to the police for investigation and criminal charges may be laid against the perpetrators."

Other contraband discoveries listed included four stashes of pornography, 35 tattooing devices, 11 homebrew ingredients or substances, and 27 items of gang paraphernalia. Five cellphones were also found.

The Department of Corrections said it used a range of measures to try to prevent contraband from entering prisons.

This included camera surveillance, background checks on potential visitors, scanners and x-ray machines at entry points, dog teams, closed overalls for prisoners in visiting areas, and intelligence teams which analysed criminal activities.

"Searches of prisoners, their property and the places where they work, sleep and congregate are also an important part of our contraband prevention strategy," Corrections Services deputy national commissioner Maria McDonald said. "Searches are a means of finding contraband, and they are also vitally important as a deterrent, because our search policy deters prisoners and their associates from even attempting to introduce contraband into prisons."

As well, there were 204 discoveries of tobacco and smoking equipment.

Anecdotal evidence of prisoners resorting to smoking their nicotine patches have been branded as proof the nationwide prison smoking ban is a "complete disaster".

Smoking in prisons was banned nationwide on July 1, 2011, and from that point tobacco and equipment such as lighters have been considered contraband.

The Howard League for Penal Reform spokeswoman Madeleine Rose said the huge number of discoveries was proof the ban, nationwide, had not worked.

"We've had a lot of comments, feedback, from officers and prisoners that it's been a complete disaster," she said. "It's been difficult to implement. They're smoking their patches and so they're smoking plastic. They're having to breathe in the plastic. It should never have been done."

While the league was not condoning smoking, she said the ban was cruel.

"Especially if a prisoner has got mental health issues and they've got smoking as somehow helping. It's quite cruel to take it away really.

"We definitely know they're smoking their nicotine patches. Tobacco is bad enough and all the stuff with it, and choking on the plastic as well? And quite a few officers have said it's led to quite a few more issues and violence."

The organisation had also received complaints from prisoners situated next door to those smoking their nicotine patches who were forced to breathe in the second-hand smoke.

"So it's a pain for the non-smokers as well as the smokers," she said.

"Those numbers, to me, of all that tobacco and smoking equipment is a sign that the ban should be reversed because it's not working basically, it just causes too much strife for prisoners and officers."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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