Exclusive: Auckland prison gang photos appear online, Labour alleges guards are smuggling phones

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Tiny cell phones are being smuggled and used inside the Serco-run prison in south Auckland, with images of inmates pulling gang signs posted online - and Labour's corrections spokesperson says prison guards are doing the smuggling.

Mobile phones are contraband in all New Zealand prisons, but photos of inmates posing and showing off their tattoos at Auckland South Corrections Facility (ASCF), as well as other New Zealand prisons, have appeared online within the past few months and led to "extensive searches", Corrections has confirmed to 1 NEWS.

Five cell phones have been found hidden at ASCF since January 2017, with each provided to police for forensic examination.

Chief Custodial Officer Neil Beales said Corrections became aware of the images in May this year.

"The phone used was not found, and intelligence information concluded that it had been disposed of," Mr Beales said.

The images remain online, with more images from inside prisons being posted to the group as recently as July 6.

Auckland South Corrections Facility inmates pose for a photo on a smuggled camera phone inside the prison at Wiri.

Auckland South Corrections Facility inmates pose for a photo on a smuggled camera phone inside the prison at Wiri.

Source: New Zealand Gang Tattos

"We can, and do, make requests to site administrators for content to be removed, however social media sites have very high thresholds that must be met for content to be removed," Mr Beales said.

"All prisons in New Zealand use an extensive range of methods to prevent contraband entry ... these include extensive perimeter security, camera surveillance, searches of staff, contractors and visitors, and their vehicles, scanners and x-technology; specialist detector dog teams (including dogs that can detect cellphones) and prisoner telephone monitoring.

"Technology is rapidly advancing and we are always working to stay ahead of offenders’ attempts to manipulate our security processes."

Corrections Association President Alan Whitley says new, tiny cell phones the size of a finger known as "beat the boss" phones are increasingly being sought by prisoners, as their tiny size allows them to be more easily hidden internally.

An illustration of a "beat the boss" phone capable of taking 7MP photos.

An illustration of a "beat the boss" phone capable of taking 7MP photos.

Source: bexy1601/Ebay

Versions with cameras are available on international sites like Ebay for as little as NZ$50.

"I know Serco found one of these a little while ago," Mr Whitley said.

"Phones are an issue in all prisons ... we are forever trying to find ways to beat them."

Mr Beales said Corrections appreciates seeing images of prisoners online would be particularly harmful to the victims of offending, and also said those close to the prisoners seeking contraband can suffer.

"Some prisoners place a significant amount of pressure on their families, partners and associates to attempt to introduce contraband to them," he said.

"This can include the use of intimidation and threats of violence."

Auckland South Corrections Facility inmates pose for a photo on a smuggled camera phone inside the prison at Wiri.

Auckland South Corrections Facility inmates pose for a photo on a smuggled camera phone inside the prison at Wiri.

Source: New Zealand Gang Tattos/Facebook

Some smuggling of contraband being done by prison guards, Kelvin Davis says

Labour Party corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis said it is a concern that contraband is "still easily being smuggled in" and questioned "how actively they're looking at their own staff".

"I raised concerns probably a year ago now about how contraband is being smuggled in - it's not all coming in through family members, in fact family members are searched pretty rigorously," Mr Davis said.

There is smuggling from some guards"
Labour Party corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis

Mr Davis said he had been told several times by prisoners of smuggling taking place by Corrections Officers and had reported these to Corrections, but said "when you go through the proper channels you get fobbed off".

He said while the things said by prisoners should be taken cautiously, he believed at least some of the claims were genuine.

"They've given me first names of Corrections Officers ... they've given me descriptions of officers," Mr Davis said.

"They [Corrections] don't seem to be focusing on the issue of corrupt Corrections Officers, spoiling it for the good Corrections Officers, making his colleagues unsafe.

"It's almost like protecting the reputation of Corrections is more important than the safety and the transparency of the system."

In 2016, Mr Davis said a family member of a prisoner bribed Corrections Officers to smuggle tobacco in for a prisoner, leading to an investigation by Corrections.

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