Mum about prisoner numbers on flights

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The Department of Corrections is remaining tight-lipped about the number of prisoners sharing flights with the public out of Dunedin Airport.

An Official Information Act request from The Star asked how many prisoners had arrived at or departed from Dunedin Airport on flights since the start of July 2016.

Corrections national commissioner Rachel Leota said prisoners were flown on chartered and commercial flights.

Corrections kept a centralised record of prisoners flown on chartered planes.

More than 170 prisoners travelled on 40 chartered flights arriving at or departing from Dunedin Airport between July 2016 and March 31.

Corrections declined to provide the number of prisoners travelling on commercial flights to or from Dunedin Airport.

The request for that information was declined because the “information cannot be made available without substantial collation or research”.

When asked if prisoners and the public shared flights out of Dunedin Airport, Mrs Leota said on a commercial flight, a prisoner and Corrections escort staff boarded the plane through the same areas as members of the public, but were normally processed first and seated at the back of the plane.

On arrival the public usually got off the plane before the prisoner.

Corrections preferred to transfer prisoners by chartered plane, she said.

“Prisoners are only transported on commercial flights in exceptional circumstances.”

An example of an exceptional circumstance would be when a prisoner had to be transferred urgently for a court appearance.

“Maximum security prisoners are never transferred via commercial flight.”

The justice sector was increasing the use of audio-visual links (AVL) to enable some prisoners to attend court “virtually” without leaving prison.

“Corrections’ use of air travel to service prisoners’ court requirements had been drastically reduced since the introduction of the court AVL system.”