Prison operator fined over inmate escape

Aaron Forden has been dubbed 'Houdini' for his numerous escapes. Photo / Supplied
Aaron Forden has been dubbed 'Houdini' for his numerous escapes. Photo / Supplied

Private prison operator Serco has been fined $150,000 after a prisoner dubbed "Houdini'' escaped from the new Mt Eden Corrections Facility.

Aaron Stephen Forden fled the prison complex last October, having famously escaped from the old Mt Eden Prison in 2008.

Forden was recaptured a week later and is being dealt with by the courts.

Under the terms of Serco's contract with the Department of Corrections, it will be fined $150,000 for the escape, with the amount taken from the operator's next performance payment.

A Serco spokesman said the department was "entitled to levy that as a fine'' and their main focus was on ensuring the safety of the public, staff, and prisoners.

The department said security at the complex had been reviewed and improved since the escape.

"Both operational security, in terms of staff supervision and monitoring, and the physical security of the building infrastructure have been enhanced.''

Department chief executive Ray Smith said he had determined that it was appropriate to levy a financial penalty for this escape under the terms of the contract with Serco.

"The department remains committed to the partnership with Serco and drawing on the many positive and innovative aspects of their international prison operations.''

The department was responding to an Official Information Act request from APNZ to view a report on the escape.

However, it said only limited information could be released due to the "significant security aspects''.

A summary of the report was compiled by the department.

"The report confirms that the staffing on the night of 10 October 2011 was adequate, and that the building's physical infrastructure exceeded the building standard specification for the type of site, and therefore was 'fit for purpose','' it said.

"It also noted that some of the noise resulting from the escape was partially masked by other noise.''

It said that the facility "significantly exceeded the standard against which it was designed''.

The report made 35 recommendations for improvements in areas including policy and procedures; contingency management; staff competency, training and culture; the security of the building.

Some of the recommendations had already been implemented and Serco had put in place a three-person team which was addressing the remaining recommendations.

Forden is one of three prisoners to escape from New Zealand Corrections Facilities in the past year, the department said.

Serco's Asia Pacific managing director of civil government Paul Mahoney said the escape had been taken extremely seriously and operational security had been improved since.

"I am confident that the joint review into the escape has been thorough and endorses the action we have both taken so far. We will continue to work closely on implementing the recommendations of the joint review and monitoring the enhancements that are made,'' he said.

"Despite running the busiest corrections facility in New Zealand, the team at Mt Eden has halved occurrences of aggressive behaviour in the receiving office. There has been no self-harm in our care, support and integration unit for vulnerable prisoners in its eight-month existence.''

Forden and a fellow inmate escaped from the facility by breaking into a serviceway. He famously escaped from the old Mt Eden Prison in 2008 by crawling through roof cavities to a high tower and using a rope made of knotted-together sheets to lower himself over a barbed wire to freedom.

He was captured three days later after a police chase in which he crashed his stolen car.

In May he managed to evade police for eight days when he was wanted for allegedly ramming police patrol vehicles, burgling homes and stealing cars.

He was only recaptured after police investigated a scuffle in a Northland bar.

He then escaped from a secure interview room in Whangarei District Court after his lawyer left him alone.

Forden had used "brute force'' to remove a bar from the grill and escaped, police said at the time.

He was on the run for more than four months before police caught him again.

Forden was due for sentence on a number of matters in Whangarei District Court today but his appearance has been put off.

- APNZ

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