Prison escapes hit a new low

ESCAPE ARTIST: Aaron Forden in a 2008 file photograph.
ESCAPE ARTIST: Aaron Forden in a 2008 file photograph.

Prison escapes have dropped to an all-time low in spite of a more than 50 per cent increase in the number of prisoners being held over the past decade.

Figures released by the Department of Corrections show only four prisoners escaped in the financial year from 2010 to 2011.

Of these, only two escapes were from correctional facilities.

LIKE FICTION: Officials look at the bed-sheet rope Aaron Forden used to escaped from Mt Eden Prison in 2008.
LIKE FICTION: Officials look at the bed-sheet rope Aaron Forden used to escaped from Mt Eden Prison in 2008.

Corrections services general manager Brendan Anstiss said these figures were a significant achievement given there were nine escapes in the financial period before and 23 in 2007 to 2008.

That record however, is set to rise with at least six escapes having already occurred in the past 12 months.

One of the most high profile "problem prisoners", Aaron Forden has escaped twice - the latest in October 2011 - and is to thank for a raft of policy changes within the Corrections system.

Forden was also at the centre of a high-profile "disturbance" at Paremoremo maximum security prison just over a month ago, when he and Damien Wereta occupied a tower within the prison grounds for more than two days.

Anstiss said he could not provide details of the cost of Forden's escapes, but given he was a maximum security prisoner, it was expected to be at least $325.73 a day.

Forden first escaped in 2008, when, in one of the most cliched breakouts imaginable, he escaped from Mt Eden Prison after crawling through roof cavities to a tower and lowering himself over the barbed-wire fence using bed sheets which he'd knotted together.

A policy change since then means prisoners can no longer have in their possession more than one bed sheet at a time.

A system was implemented to swap bed sheets one for one and sheet counts are now included in all cell checks. CCTV footage is now also checked on a regular basis.

As a result of his latest tower stunt, Anstiss said Forden was on directed segregation and could not mix with other prisoners. Forden has also faced internal charges under the prison misconduct system which included visiting Justices who would impose penalties such as cell confinement or loss of privileges.

Other inmates to have made it outside the wire in the past year include Jesse Lee Ibell, 24, and Wayne Holmes, 23, who escaped together at from Waikeria Prison in June, Lex Miller, 44, who escaped from Rangipo Prison just last month and Jamie Paamu Hughes, 29, who also escaped from Rangipo in February - fleeing in a Department of Corrections vehicle.

Rimutaka Prison now has a new electric fence after Corrections made the decision in April 2010 to increase security there. Joey Falau Vanilau, 25, scaled two four-metre-high fences topped with razor wire to escape the prison in April last year. Work on the electric fence began late last year and was completed early this year.

Anstiss said Corrections was always reviewing its security and a number of recent changes had been made.

"During the past decade, [Corrections] has invested in a range of physical and electronic security improvements to prison sites across the country. Including enhanced perimeter fencing, installation of detection and surveillance systems, and the introduction of single point-of-entry prisons."

He said an operational reviews were conducted after every escape.