More than 168 grams of synthetic drugs has been removed from prisons thanks to specialised sniffer dogs - the country's first detector dogs trained to detect
deadly new psychoactive substances.

In March, the Department of Corrections deployed dogs trained to detect new psychoactive substances in prison.

During the 2017/18 year, 33 samples of synthetic drugs totalling more than 168 grams was recovered by Corrections.

An annual report released today detailed the lengths the Department of Corrections goes to keep contraband out of prisons.

Advertisement

"We are currently managing over 10,000 prisoners, some of whom will go to extreme lengths to introduce contraband into prison," the report reads.

"This can include concealment of contraband in vehicles, mail and property, internal concealment, and receiving contraband that has been thrown over the prison's perimeter.

"Our strategies for limiting access to contraband include extensive prison perimeter security, camera surveillance in visit rooms, background checks on all prison visitors, vehicle searches, scanners and X-ray machines at entry points and the deployment of specialist detector dogs."

Guests caught smuggling contraband into prison were referred to the police and banned from visiting prisons across the country.

Department of Corrections Chief Custodial Officer Neil Beales said drugs were dangerous both to the health and safety of prisoners, staff and visitors - and to the secure running of prisons.

"We have a duty of care to prisoners, and are well aware of the significant health risks posed by synthetic drugs."

There was no evidence of synthetic drugs being widespread in our prisons but it was important to remain vigilant, he said.

"We are the first agency in New Zealand to train our detector dogs to detect new psychoactive substances (NPS), including synthetic cannabis.

"We now have five detector dog teams who can detect these substances."

The five dogs sniffing out synthetic drugs are named Ninja, ANZAC, Ciggy, Bea and Koda.

In September, Minister for Corrections' Kelvin Davis said synthetic drugs posed a significant risk to people's safety both inside and outside prison.

"It's not a widespread problem in prisons, but we need to stay one step ahead in preventing these substances from being introduced and distributed in the first place. "

The ingredients of synthetic drugs were constantly changing which means training the dogs had to be ongoing, but this was an important step towards mitigating the potential dangers of these harmful substances, he said.

The crackdown on synthetic drugs behind bars comes as the country deals with a surge in the number of deaths believed to be linked to the substances.

Provisional figures released by the Coroner in July showed between 40 and 45 people died in as a result of synthetics drugs in the year prior.

St John figures show the service attended about 1200 synthetic drug-related callouts this year, with the majority in Auckland.

The Department of Corrections annual report paints a picture of the changing prison population with the prison muster of more than 10,000 experiencing a significant growth in the numbers of women incarcerated.

Ninety-one per cent of prisoners have a lifetime diagnosis of mental health or substance abuse disorders, according to the report.

More than 75 per cent of prisoners have current or prior convictions for violence.

About a third of the prison population is affiliated with gangs, of those about 70 per cent identify as Māori.

About 30,000 people are on community-based sentences and orders – nearly three times the number of the prison population.

Every year about 16,000 people are released from prison, most of whom arrange their own accommodation.