Cigarettes, tobacco hot property in jail

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 05:00 13/08/2014
Raymond Heperi Harris
Fairfaz NZ
SMUGGLER: Raymond Heperi Harris, 60, resigned from his job at Christchurch Men's Prison in May last year after he was confronted with allegations of corruption.

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Tobacco and cigarettes are hot property behind bars.

Prisoners are paying $10 for a single cigarette and up to $1500 for a pouch of tobacco as the contraband's value soars.

Smoking was banned in prisons on July 1, 2011.

Department of Corrections figures show there have been 5350 tobacco and smoking equipment seizures since then to March this year.

Of those, 458 were at Christchurch Men's (8.5 per cent), 121 at Rolleston (2.3 per cent) and 143 at Christchurch Women's prisons (2.7 per cent).

Items seized included cigarettes, tobacco, tobacco, lighters, papers and nicotine patches.

Corrections said prohibited items, even everyday items, became a commodity of demand behind bars.

That had happened with tobacco as many prisoners grappled with nicotine addictions.

"The presence of a banned substance, in any environment, will mean that this product may have a premium," Corrections Southern Region acting regional commissioner Nicolas Scott said.

"We continue to use our best efforts to stop the introduction of banned substances within prisons."

Alcohol, phones, drugs, drug paraphernalia, tattoo equipment and weapons are also banned.

Screening methods to stop contraband getting in included prison perimeter security to prevent "throw-overs" - where prisoners' associates tried to hurl contraband over a fence - camera surveillance in prison visiting rooms, vehicle searches, scanners, X-ray machines, requiring prisoners to wear overalls in visiting areas, mail checks and detector dogs.

"Items that are prohibited may include everyday and seemingly innocent items that, while not illegal, may be used inappropriately by prisoners," Corrections national commissioner Jeremy Lightfoot said.

Intelligence staff were "constantly working" to stay informed about new concealment methods.

Prisoners caught smoking faced disciplinary action under an internal misconduct system.

Punishments could include loss of privileges, forfeiture of earnings or cell confinement.

Two staff members had been caught attempting to smuggle tobacco into prisons since the ban took effect.

Long-serving Christchurch Men's Prison officer Raymond Heperi Harris, 60, will be sentenced next month after admitting smuggling tobacco into prison in his underwear in exchange for thousands of dollars in 2012.

Lightfoot said: "Any large organisation may encounter a few staff who cannot maintain the high standards set by the majority."

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- The Press

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