Private plane for prisoners
Prisoners from Christchurch were flown in a private plane to Blenheim to appear in a court trial.
The charter flight, costing the Corrections Department $6500, was a trial of more cost-effective, efficient transport for prisoners.
Prisoners are usually taken to court appearances in a truck or police van that can take up to 15 prisoners, with separate compartments for each prisoner.
Corrections southern regional commissioner Ian Bourke said prisoners appearing in the Blenheim and Nelson district courts were flown from Christchurch on May 16 in an 18-seat Jetstream J32 aircraft.
The plane made the return trip from Nelson to Blenheim and back to Christchurch on the same day.
The same aircraft was used to fly prisoners between the North and South islands.
"This wasn't just a cost-saving exercise," Bourke said. "We are looking at whether this is an overall more effective and efficient mode of transport for this region and purpose."
Prisoners travelling by truck are usually transported between Christchurch and Blenheim twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays.
Tasman District police communications manager Barbara Dunn said police were responsible for delivering sentenced and remand prisoners to a correctional centre under warrant within seven days.
Dunn and Bourke said the cost of transporting prisoners in the truck was divided between the police and Corrections, making it difficult to assess.
For security reasons, they would not comment on how many prisoners were transported at any one time.
Blenheim lawyer Rob Harrison said his clients remanded in Christchurch usually arrived in Blenheim on Monday afternoon for a court appearance that day.
After their appearance, they were held in the Blenheim police station cells until Friday.
His clients remanded in Christchurch prisons often chose to miss their court appearance as the travelling conditions to Blenheim were difficult to endure, he said.
"They travel for four hours in little cages in a little truck, designed to keep them all separate. It's pretty hard on them," he said.
Harrison went to Christchurch about once a month to visit clients.
It was difficult to talk to his clients by phone as there was a time restriction on calls and it was not particularly private.
It made it hard for his clients to feel comfortable discussing intimate details of their case, he said.
Flying prisoners to Blenheim instead of putting them on the prison truck was a fantastic idea, he said.
Prisoners would arrive on time for their court appearance and would not have to spend five days in the Blenheim police cells.
Bourke said flying prisoners between Christchurch and Blenheim had been tried only once, and no more flights were planned.
"We are currently evaluating the benefits of transporting prisoners to Nelson and Blenheim courts in this way," he said.
The use of audio-visual links (AVL) to minimise court appearances was also being explored, he said.
The AVL system would be more efficient as Corrections and police would not have to spend time planning, transporting or funding escort duties from prison to court and back again, Bourke said.
But Dunn said police would still be required to deliver sentenced and remand prisoners to a correctional centre.
Only a portion of cases would be dealt with using AVL, she said.
Bourke said air charter was not an unusual method of transporting prisoners to different regions in New Zealand.
Prisoners transferred by air went through the normal searches before leaving a prison, as well as those of a normal passenger.
They wore waist restraints during the flight and were supervised by Corrections officers at all times, he said.
"Our prime consideration in deciding how we will move prisoners is the safety of the general public and our staff," he said.
- The Marlborough Express
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