New Zealand's most notorious prison escaper winched a door from a cell and let another prisoner out of his cell while he was supposed to be in "lockdown" after a two-day tower drama.

Aaron "Houdini" Forden smashed up his cell in the maximum security section in Auckland Prison, Paremoremo, on Wednesday.

He was in the detention cell - known as the pound - as punishment for barricading himself in a tower at the prison last month with another prisoner.

A prison source said: "The prison was in lockdown all afternoon. They had to wait to extract Forden from the cell. They wanted to pepper spray him but they weren't allowed. In the end they put a control and restraint team on him and got him out." Private prison operator Serco Asia Pacific was fined $150,000 after Forden escaped last year.


Forden also escaped from what was meant to be a secure interview room at Whangarei District Court and spent weeks on the run.

Another attempted breakout occurred this week as two prisoners, who recently escaped from another jail, tried to break out of Paremoremo by punching holes in their cells.

Jesse Lee Ibell, 24, and Wayne Holmes, 23, escaped from Waikeria Prison near Te Awamutu last month.

"It was regarded as an escape attempt. The general manager of prisons came from Wellington to inspect it," said the source.

The Corrections Department refused to speak about either of the attempted prison escapes.

General Manager Prison Services Jeanette Burns said there was zero tolerance of disruption to the running of prisons.

"All incidents of disruption or deliberate damage are fully investigated and are likely to lead to the prisoners involved facing internal disciplinary action and possibly criminal charges."

Burns said that ensuring public safety was the department's priority and incidents of prisoner disorder and disruption were contained and managed within the prison.