Police are now trying to track down escaped prisoner Kevin Polwart through his family and known associates, as the convicted armed robber continues to avoid recapture.

There have been no confirmed sightings of Polwart since he cut his way through a double perimeter fence at Auckland Prison at Paremoremo on Wednesday.

Polwart, a 49-year-old Maori, 165cm tall, and of medium build was eight years into a sentence for the armed robbery of a security van and related offences.

He was 14 months away from parole on a 16-year sentence.

Initially 20 officers supported by dogs and a police helicopter, were involved in the search. A team of about 10 was now continuing the investigation.

Police believed he had now escaped the immediate area and they were now concentrating on speaking to Polwart's family and friends, said Detective Senior Sergeant Kim Libby of North Shore CIB.

It was likely Polwart had help once he escaped and could have been picked up by a car. The prison was in a rural area with no bus services, he said.

A jacket had been found near the prison, but nothing else.

While they suspect he might try to reach Wellington, where he had contacts, police were not ruling anything out, Mr Libby said.

"He is going to surface sooner or later, we hope it's not doing any nefarious activity."

Some people had reported possible sightings and police were keen to hear of more, he said.

Although Polwart had "quite a grand mo'," Mr Libby said, he may have shaved it off to change his appearance.

It was possible Polwart could now be armed, given his history of offending, Mr Libby said.

"We are prepared for that. We won't be putting the public and ourselves in any danger. We will be dealing with it with the necessary resources."

Polwart escaped by using and angle grinder to cut through a steel fence around a concrete yard in which he was working.

He was using the angle grinder to work on concrete panels when he moved over to the fence and cut his way through.

Corrections Department national operations manager Robin Benefield said Polwart had been working in the yard for more than eight months.

Security concerns and prisoner employment programmes had to be balanced with the need to prepare inmates for eventual release.

"With any prisoner involved in employment, there is a risk involved. The department has a responsibility to prepare offenders for release," she told the New Zealand Herald.

Only two guards were supervising up to 60 inmates during the workshop instead of four, the paper reported.

It also said Polwart was moved from Ngawha Prison in Northland to Paremoremo two years ago after staff found escape plans in his cell.

Corrections Association president Beven Hanlon said the union had tried to stop Polwart being placed in a low-security wing but felt it was ignored by prison management.

A prison spokesman said management was not aware of any union concerns about Polwart.

Wednesday's escape was similar to Polwart's break out from Upper Hutt's Rimutaka Prison in 2001, where he used wire cutters.

During his 41 days on the run, he carried out an armed robbery of a security van in Auckland, stealing $600,000 in cash and cheques.

He was serving a 10-year sentence when he made his 2001 escape, and another six years were added to that after he was recaptured.

A report found that several failures had eased the Rimutaka escape. His cell had not been searched in three months before the escape, it was poorly checked on the morning of the jailbreak, electronic security systems were limited, there was poor lighting and lax supervision.

- NZPA