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Prisons Monty Python style

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The case of the Wanganui burglar who used the local prison as his base may sound like a Monty Python skit, but it highlights serious deficiencies in New Zealand's prison service, Labour justice spokesperson Phil Goff said today.

"According to police, David Downer regularly let himself out of Wanganui prison to commit burglaries, before going back to his cell and the perfect alibi.

"When he was caught, the police told prison authorities that Downer should be transferred to a medium security prison. But somehow he ended up back at Wanganui Prison, a minimum security facility.

"The Corrections Minister Clem Simich today told the House that inmates in minimum security prisons are there "on trust." That may explain why five inmates, including David Downer, have escaped from Wanganui Prison in the past fortnight.

"The public expects and deserves better. They want criminals who are sent to jail, to stay there until their sentence is served, not to treat it like a hotel where they can come and go at will and carry on their offending.

"It's clear that at Wanganui Prison, the security regime has broken down altogether. But it is not the only prison with serious failings," Phil Goff said.

"At Auckland Prison at Paremoremo, inmates have been able to smuggle in cellphones. A multiple rapist sentenced to preventive detention was held in a medium security wing and was able to escape through a perimeter fence that had not been upgraded. His absence was not noticed for 12 hours by prison staff.

"A string of embarrassing incidents has brought the Corrections Department into disrepute. The police are sick of cleaning up the inadequacies of the Department. It's time for the Minister to stop making excuses and take action," Mr Goff said.

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