Minister Wants Prison Phones Tapped

  • Nick Smith

Corrections Minister Nick Smith is appalled at the number of offences being committed and organised by inmates from prison phones in New Zealand and wants to import technology used in Australia that will enable prison phone calls to be tapped continuously.

"The more I have investigated the abuse of prison phones, the more I have become concerned. Inmates are organising bank robberies, ordering drugs, arranging death contracts and leading gangs through misuse of the phone system. It just makes a total joke of the justice system."

"The technology is beating us. Inmates are currently issued with a card that gives them access to a maximum of ten numbers like direct family, for whom they require prior approval. However, new phone technology enables a call to an approved number to be easily transferred on to gangs or criminal colleagues. The system has become wide open to abuse."

"Tapping inmate phone calls is the right answer. It enables all calls to be monitored so as to ensure they are not being used for criminal purposes. If the phone privilege is abused, the person's access card would be cancelled. The only exceptions would be phone calls to the prison inspectorate, Office of the Ombudsman and to the inmate's lawyer."

"I know that civil libertarians and privacy advocates will do their nuts at this proposal, but we must not lose sight of the fact that inmates have lost the right of normal liberties through their criminal offending. We should not let purist principles in the Bill of Rights and Privacy Act get in the way of common sense. The irony is that removing prison phones does not breach any of these laws but tapping inmates phone calls does. I will be pursuing legislative change to enable inmate phone tapping to occur."

Mr Smith, who yesterday visited prisons in Melbourne that use the phone tapping technology, said the systems had proved hugely successful in Australia and had prevented hundreds of serious crimes being committed.

"Prison is a place for punishment as well as rehabilitation. We must not tolerate any form of offending while a person is doing time. Tapping phone calls is a necessary evil to maintain the integrity of the prison system."