Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Tattoo gear most popular item smuggled into jails

Exclusive - Phones, weapons and drugs top list of almost 7000 articles seized last year.
Mt Eden Corrections Facility. Photo / NZME.
Mt Eden Corrections Facility. Photo / NZME.

Almost 7000 prohibited items have been seized from inmates at prisons in 2015 - with the most popular contraband being tattoo equipment.

Department of Corrections staff also found communications devices including cellphones, weapons, drugs, alcohol, tobacco and lighters and thousands of other items deemed "inappropriate" for prisoners across the country's 18 prisons.

Figures released to the Herald under the Official Information Act revealed 6598 items were seized by Corrections staff in the year to November 15.

The figures suggest the amount of contraband seized is falling with 7054 items collected in the year ending June 2014 and 7484 in the year ending June 2013.

The most contraband was seized at Christchurch Mens Prison, closely followed by Mt Eden Corrections Facility.


At Christchurch Mens, one of the largest Corrections facilities in New Zealand housing 920 medium to high-security male inmates, staff uplifted 839 banned items including 110 pieces of tattoo equipment, 80 communication devices and 41 weapons.

At Mt Eden 106 communication devices were seized along with 70 weapons, 105 pieces of tattoo equipment and 89 items containing alcohol.

A relative of a former inmate told the Herald it was "not hard" to get contraband inside prisons.

The relative spoke to the Herald on the condition that neither they nor the prison they visited was identified.

"Thursday was the day to drop off contraband - big items like phones or DVDs. The loading docks were receiving the inward goods, and you had to take it to a specific guard at a specific time," the relative said.

"I was involved in smuggling drugs into the prison - methamphetamine - three times a week.

"I was approached to do it as I looked like the least likely person to be involved in this activity, also I was completely trustworthy as I do not partake in drugs.

"Often [my relative] rang me completely intoxicated, he got addicted to drugs while inside the prison system. He always says it's easier to get drugs in prison than out here on the streets."

Corrections Commissioner Jeremy Lightfoot said the cracking down on contraband was vital to creating "lasting change by breaking the cycle of reoffending".

Mr Lightfoot said contraband items in prisons included "everyday and seemingly innocent items" that, while not illegal, may be used inappropriately by inmates.

For example, in July 2011 smoking was banned in all prisons, so from that date all tobacco and smoking equipment like lighters were considered contraband.

He said there was a difference in contraband finds between prisons across the country.

"Factors affecting this include prisoner numbers, the volumes of new arrivals and transits from courts, the profile of the prisoners and their visitors and the design and layout of the prison and grounds.

"For example, some prison perimeter fences are close to public roads and prisoners' associates may attempt 'throw-overs'."

Throwing over involved contraband items being put inside other items like tennis balls or socks and being tossed over a fence at a specific time and date to a waiting inmate.

Mr Lightfoot said a range of screening methods to prevent contraband entering prisons were used.

Those methods included extensive perimeter security and limited prison entry points; camera surveillance in prison rooms, around the perimeter and entry points; background checks on all potential visitors; searching vehicles and occupants that enter prison property; using scanners and x-ray machines at entry points; checking prisoner mail; dog teams patrolling the facilities and using intelligence to identify "criminal activities" in prisons.

Anyone caught bringing contraband into a prison was banned from visiting in future.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said the figures were "high" but she was happy with that.

"The number of items seized shows the policies to control contraband are working," she said.

In July contraband became a high profile issue after inmates at Mt Eden managed to film gang members participating in organised fights on cellphones and post footage to the internet.

As a result Corrections took control of the prison from private management company Serco.

- NZ Herald

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