The Dominion Post

Crims caught in act by call-tapping

OUTSIDE LINE

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THE number appears to be up for crooks trying to ‘‘network’’ from inside prison.

A long-awaited test of legal powers to snoop on calls from jail payphones has uncovered evidence of plans for robberies and drug crimes, even while it was still being trialled.

The Correction­s Department says a trial of the system to record all 12 million minutes of calls made each year and monitor some of them at the new Otago Correction­s Facility saw informatio­n passed on to police and charges laid.

Telephone monitoring could cost $567,000 over four years.

Under the Correction­s Act the department can record and monitor all calls from prison payphones, though calls to certain numbers, such as the ombudsman, lawyers, and some government department­s, will not be monitored.

The system is now being extended to other prisons. Upper Hutt’s Rimutaka Prison is expected to be covered by midMarch. By the end of June all calls are set to be recorded, with certain calls targeted.

Laws allowing the tapping of prison calls were introduced in 1999 but a lack of funding meant the scheme has only just kicked off.

Since 2005 the department has looked at how to monitor calls. Tenders were then held to work in with the times contracts were expiring for providing prisoners’ phone services.

Under privacy laws, the department must tell prisoners Phones have been an important tool for prisoners’ crimes: 1997: Mongrel Mob members hold a jail-to-jail conference call to plan a robbery which ended with the murder of Naenae bank teller Bill Brown. 2001: Serial armed robber Kevin Polwart calls a taxi to Wellington Prison to make his getaway. 2005: Career criminal Arthur William Taylor makes dozens of cellphone calls from Rimutaka Prison when planning to escape. 2007: Prisoners at Rimutaka using cellphones arrange a million-dollar methamphet­amine importing ring. and the people they call that calls are monitored, so a message will play at the beginning.

Ms Nielsen said phone monitoring was one method used by the department to stop prisoners committing more crimes from inside prisons.

Another more expensive method was cellphone blocking and detection technology, which is expected to cost $5 million to introduce at New Zealand’s 20 prisons.

Cellphone calls should blocked from all prisons next February.

A law change is going to give the department greater powers to search prisoners’ mail, further cutting the ability to communicat­e with people outside and organise crimes. be by

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