Private prison bosses will be able to decide inmates' security classifications, under new laws which also grant wider strip search powers.
Corrections Minister Judith Collins introduced legislation to Parliament yesterday to enhance prison security, toughen up drug-testing and crack down on businesses behind bars.
The Corrections Amendment Bill 2011 allows officers to "visually examine" body cavities and use instruments for searches. Staff can also search without managerial approval. And every inmate who returns from court, or other escorted outings, will be searched.
The new laws allow contractors to make decisions about the temporary release or removal of a prisoner from their jail. Private prison bosses will also have the authority to reconsider security classifications. At the moment Corrections chief executive Ray Smith, or senior managers, determine the level.
A private prison is planned for Wiri, South Auckland, although Prime Minister John Key said this week it may not be needed.
Green Party corrections spokesman David Clendon said the changes were unacceptable.
"A private manager can be fined if they allow escapes. In that context they are going to be very risk averse and use the high classification rather than the lower one."
Only low to medium security prisoners are permitted to work outside the prison. High security inmates are not allowed to join programmes like Whare Oranga Ake.
Mr Clendon is concerned about searches without approval. "I have to be cynical and say how long before searches like that, or simply even the threat, are used as punishment?"
Ms Collins said the legislation would enhance drug testing and searching procedures to reduce contraband in prisons.
The new regulations also tighten up the rules around prisoners who are self-employed. Earnings will now be subject to deductions for board and other costs.
The crackdown comes after murderer Philip John Smith was caught running an international imports business from behind bars.
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