High time: Sharp increase in prison drug seizures

The number of drug seizures in New Zealand prisons has sharply increased in recent years.

Information provided by the Department of Corrections to the Otago Daily Times under the Official Information Act shows a 28 per cent increase in drug incidents in prisons in the past five years.

There were 1251 incidents in the 2020-21 financial year, the highest number in five years.

At Otago Corrections Facility, in the past five years there were 60 instances of pills, tablets or capsules being discovered, and 19 instances of cannabis.

Amphetamines/methamphetamine was discovered eight times — all within the past three years.

There were 53 instances where there was an indication of drug use, such as a smell, but no drugs were found.

At Invercargill Prison, cannabis was found 37 times, amphetamines/methamphetamine four times, and pills, tablets or capsules 22 times.

Corrections national commissioner Rachel Leota said jurisdictions worldwide faced the issue of contraband being smuggled into prisons.

Some individuals went to extreme lengths to introduce contraband into prison, she said.

“People may conceal contraband on their body when entering prison, it may be posted in with mail or property, thrown over perimeter fencing or smuggled into the prison by visitors.

“Sometimes, there is significant pressure placed on the partners, friends and associates of those in custody to risk introducing drugs into prisons.”

Corrections was constantly working to stay ahead of new methods used to introduce drugs into prisons, she said.

“The health and safety of our staff and the people we are managing is paramount. Drug trade and use can create a significant risk to our staff and people in prison.”

While the number of drugs seized was increasing, fewer random drug tests were being carried out in prisons.

There were 3522 random tests carried out in the past year, down 27 per cent from five years ago.

Of last year’s tests, 129 were failed.

Corrections chief custodial officer Neil Beales said the drop was equivalent to the percentage drop in the prison population over the same time.

In March 2018, the prison population peaked at 10,820. The current population was 7688.

“Also in the last two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in us having to pause random drug testing at times, as the priority for the company we use to do the tests was on national Covid testing.”

There were 17 failed drug tests at Otago Corrections Facility in the past five years, and 23 at Invercargill Prison.

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