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Department of Corrections staff, recently in the firing line for taking an average of 50 domestic flights around New Zealand every day, could soon be saving the taxpayer more than $1 million annually by staying put and using video-conferencing technology instead.
The new equipment has already been installed in 14 prisons, including the Otago Correction Facility at Milburn, and Northland and Invercargill prisons are the latest to get it.
More prisons will be able to use the technology over the coming months in a move the department estimates could cut its travel bill by 20%. Introducing the technology will cost more than $500,000.
Earlier this month, the Otago Daily Times revealed department staff jetted off on more than 13,000 flights in the past financial year with taxpayers footing the $5.6 million bill.
Based on those figures and the department's hopes video-conferencing can cut its travel bill by 20%, taxpayers stand to save about $1.13 million.
When approached yesterday, the department would not comment when asked if the press statement was a result of the recent negative publicity surrounding its annual air travel bills.
In response to questions, chief information officer Jon Cumming said the department decided in March to push ahead with video-conferencing. Aside from prisons, the technology is also installed in six other sites, including parole board offices, its Wellington head office and a project office in Auckland.
The 14-prison project has cost $390,000 and it plans to install it into five other sites this year at a cost of about $140,000.
A department statement yesterday said the new "face to face" technology meant staff could have a meeting and be back in their own offices within five minutes.
Northern regional manager Warren Cummins said staff previously either had to call colleagues individually or travel to visit other offices.
"Now, we can video call a number of colleagues at one time without leaving the prison, which uses our time much more efficiently and saves on travel costs."
Staff visiting prisons, like all other visitors, were also subjected to searches to ensure contraband did not enter a prison.
By using the new technology to communicate, staff were also saving time by not having to be searched every time they visited a prison.
"The other positive is that by not travelling as much, we are also reducing the carbon footprint of the department, which supports our commitment to sustainability."
• The ODT has filed an Official Information Act request, asking for more details on the department's travel expenses, including the costs of moving prisoners around the country and a breakdown of business class and first-class travel costs.