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The Corrections Department has defended the state of Auckland's prisons despite a damning report by a visiting Australian union official.

The maximum security prison at Paremoremo was "putrid" and not really maximum security at all, and Mt Eden was simply "archaic", said Colin Rosewarne, an executive officer of the Australian Community and Public Sector Union's prisons division, after short visits to the sites.

In his report, commissioned by the Corrections Association which represents prison officers here, Mr Rosewarne said he found lax security, shortages of guards, prisoner unruliness and poor hygiene.

At Paremoremo he said watch-towers were unmanned, movement detectors were not working, and there were no perimeter patrols.

The prison was "putrid" - the worst he had visited in Australia, Asia, and North America.

Mt Eden prison was "archaic" and too old to successfully modify, he said.

Corrections' northern regional manager Warren Cummins said today he was surprised and disappointed with the report, and disagreed with many of its findings.

"Quarterly sanitation reports for Auckland Prison, that are required by law, have given us a clean bill of health."

The department was well aware Mt Eden was past its use-by date and had announced its replacement three months before Mr Rosewarne visited, Mr Cummins said.

"Corrections is continually working to ensure the safety of our staff and we review our security procedures constantly."

The department was always willing to talk to staff who had concerns about their health and safety, Mr Cummins said.

Peter Williams, from the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the Minister of Corrections knew about prison conditions but did not want to spend money improving them because it was not a vote-winner.

"Any person in this country who has a conscience should do something about it," he said.