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Senior Sergeant Matt Scoles said the search for Stephen Uriah Maddren was scaled back about 10.15pm.
Limited patrols would continue through the night and the full search would resume in the morning.
Police had using a helicopter with night-vision equipment to search for Maddren, a remand prisoner who is believed to have escaped after arriving under escort after appearing at court.
Maddren is described as a male, Caucasian, 25 years of age, 171 cm tall with mullet type brown or black shoulder length hair and no teeth.
He was last seen wearing green track pants and a green top and was reported missing from the Milburn prison south of Dunedin at 4.15pm.
Police said Maddren is not thought to be a danger to the public but should not be approached.
He is believed to have escaped after arriving at the prison under escort after appearing at court.