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Prisoners are being provided with taxpayer-funded X-Box and PlayStation consoles as a "reward for good behaviour".
Just weeks after revealing flat-screen televisions were fixtures in some New Zealand prisons, the Corrections Department has confirmed that games consoles and "sports and motor racing-themed titles" had been bought out of operational funding and were available for use by inmates in prisons around the country.
In a bid to stem public outcry over the provision of games consoles for inmates, Corrections Minister Damien O'Connor has stepped in and ordered them to be removed until a national policy is developed around their use. However, Acting General Manager Public Prisons Service Paul Monk said the consoles could be reintroduced once guidelines were established.
National's law and order spokesman Simon Power has demanded O'Connor explain to taxpayers why "precious funds" are being spent on "expensive toys for prisoners".
"Corrections' admission that some prisons have bought PlayStations and X-Boxes out of operational funding is unbelievable," he said.
Corrections has seized 11 gaming consoles - three of which were either donated or bought with prisoner funds, with the remainder paid for by the taxpayer. The consoles sell for between $300 and $500 each.
The use of games consoles is just one of many privileges offered to the nearly 8000 inmates in the country's 19 public prisons. Prisoners are also being rewarded with trips to the beach, telephone calls, movies, CDs and electronic equipment.
The latest furore comes just months after Corrections was forced to fend off criticism over the installation of under-floor heating in Northland, Auckland Women's, Springhill and Otago prisons - plus claims that a prostitute had been found with an inmate in Wellington's Rimutaka prison. Monk said most of the consoles were located in youth units but some had also been available to older prisoners.
"While they may be a useful reward for good behaviour, particularly for younger prisoners, there is no national policy on their use. We are suspending them until we have clearer guidelines," he said.
O'Connor told the Herald on Sunday he wanted to know whether Corrections' policy regarding entertainment devices was keeping pace with technology.
Power said he was astounded by the revelations. "I can see it now: prisoners come in from a day at the beach, as happens in Hawke's Bay from time to time, eat their steak and ice cream, warm their feet on the heated floor and plug their PlayStations or X-Boxes into the flat-screen TVs kindly supplied by the Minister," he said.