Department of Corrections (New Zealand)

Department of Corrections
Ara Poutama Aotearoa
Department overview
Formed 1995
Jurisdiction New Zealand
Headquarters Level 9, Mayfair House,
44-52 The Terrace,
Employees 7,184 FTE staff
(30 June 2009)
Annual budget Vote Corrections
Total budget for 2016/17
Minister responsible
Department executive
  • Ray Smith,
    Chief Executive

The Department of Corrections (Corrections) (Māori: Ara Poutama Aotearoa) is the public service department of New Zealand charged with managing the New Zealand corrections system. Corrections' role and functions were defined and clarified with the passing of the Corrections Act 2004.[2] In early 2006, Corrections officially adopted the Māori name Ara Poutama Aotearoa.


The Department of Corrections was formed in 1995, by the Department of Justice (Restructuring) Act 1995.[3] Prior to this prisons, the probation system and the courts were all managed by the Department of Justice. The new Act gave management of prisoners, parolees and offenders on probation to a new Department of Corrections while leaving administration of the court system and fines collection[4] with the Ministry of Justice. The intention was to enable the new Department to improve public safety and assist in the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders.

In 2000, an approach based on enhanced computerised access to information about offenders was tried. The new chief executive of the department, Mark Byers, introduced a $40 million scheme designed to reduce reoffending called Integrated Offender Management (IOM). At the time it was described as "the biggest single initiative the department has undertaken to reduce reoffending". Seven years later, Greg Newbold said the scheme was an expensive failure and described it as "another wreck on the scrapheap of abandoned fads of criminal rehabilitation."[5]

The use of private prisons has also been tried. New Zealand's first privately run prison, the Auckland Central Remand Prison opened under contract to Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) in 2000. In 2004, the Labour Government, opposed to privatisation, amended the law to prohibit the extension of private prison contracts. A year later, the 5-year contract with ACM was not renewed.[6] In 2010, the National Government again introduced private prisons and international conglomerate Serco was awarded the contract to run the Auckland Central Remand Prison.[7] Serco has also been given the contract to build and manage a new 960 bed prison at Wiri. The contract with Serco provides stiff financial penalties if its rehabilitation programmes fail to reduce reoffending by 10% more than the Corrections Department programmes.[8]

In 2012, the Government revealed it will spend $65 million over the next four years on reducing criminal reoffending. It will go towards additional alcohol and drug treatment, increased education, skills training and employment programmes for prisoners. Corrections Minister Anne Tolley and Associate Corrections Minister Dr Pita Sharples said the 'reprioritised' operational funding was aimed at reducing reoffending by 25 per cent by 2017.[9]


Since it was established, the Department had to cope with a dramatic growth in the prison population. Between 1997 and 2011 the number of inmates increased by 70%[10] and, at 190 prisoners per 100,000 of population (in 2011), New Zealand has one of the higher rates of imprisonment in the Western world.[11] Five new prisons have been built in the last ten years to accommodate the increase. The Fifth Labour Government built four prisons[12] – at Ngawha (Northern Region) housing 420 prisoners, Springhill (north of Huntly) housing 840, Auckland Women's' holding 330 and Milton (Otago) holding 425 – at a cost of $890 million.[13] When National came to power in 2008, the Department built a new 1,000 bed prison at Mt Eden for $218 million[14] in a public private partnership and gave the contract to Serco.[15]

The Department's growth has been such that in July 2010, Finance Minister Bill English expressed concerns that Government spending was "led by a rapidly expanding prison system which would soon make Corrections the government's biggest department".[16] As at December 2011, New Zealand had 20 prisons and the Department employed over 8,000 staff.[17] The Department's operating budget is over $1 billion a year.[18]

As at 31 March 2011, there were 8,755 people in prison in New Zealand.[19] However, the prison population is very fluid and altogether about 20,000 people spend time in prison each year,[20] the vast majority on remand. Nearly 75% of those given a prison sentence are sentenced to two years or less,[21] and all these are automatically released half way through their sentence.[22] As of 2001, 96% percent of inmates were men and 51% of male inmates were Māori, so Māori were over-represented on a population basis by 3.5 times.[23] The cost of keeping a person in prison for 12 months is $91,000.[24] In 2001 the Department estimated that a lifetime of offending by one person costs victims and taxpayers $3 million.[25]

Despite English's concerns about the growing cost, in 2011 the Government approved the building of a new 960 bed prison at Wiri estimated to cost nearly $400 million.[26] Later that year justice sector forecasts showed a drop in the projected prison forecast for the first time.[27] Charles Chauvel, Labour Party spokesperson for justice, and the Public Service Association both questioned the need for a new prison when there were 1,200 empty beds in the prison system.[28][29] In March 2012, Corrections Minister Anne Tolley announced that the new prison would enable older prisons such as Mt Crawford in Wellington and the New Plymouth prison to be closed. Older units at Arohata, Rolleston, Tongariro/Rangipo and Waikeria prisons will also be shut down.[30]


The Department comprises three service arms and four other groups. The service arms are prisons, community probation, and rehabilitation and reintegration and each arm used to have separate internal processes, infrastructure and support staff.[31] As of May 2012 the newly appointed chief executive, Ray Smith proposed merging the three service arms into one team.[32] Smith said the segregated infrastructure "creates replication of work, is inefficient and has resulted in an overly layered structure."

Chief executives

Mark Byers was chief executive of the Department of Corrections for its first ten years, until he retired from the public service in 2005. Byers oversaw a range of organizational initiatives in his time at the helm and, in 2000, introduced a new computer system called "Integrated Offender Management". At the time, this was described as "the biggest single initiative the Department has undertaken to reduce reoffending." IOMS cost $40 million but had no impact of the rate of re-conviction which remained at 55% two years after release.[33]

Barry Matthews, who replaced Byers, had formerly been Deputy Commissioner of Police in New Zealand and the Commissioner of the Western Australian Police Force. He served as chief executive of Corrections for five years from 2005 to 2010 and, in a farewell interview, listed his top three achievements as the implementation of cell phone blocking technology in prisons, better enforcement by the Probation Service of sentence compliance, and the establishment of the Professional Standards Unit to investigate corruption by prison officers.[34]

During Matthews' tenure there was public concern about the management of the Department. Simon Power, Opposition spokesman for justice from 2006 through to 2008, made a number of calls for an inquiry into Corrections,[35] but none was held. In 2009 Matthews' leadership was questioned by the new Corrections Minister, Judith Collins, after a run of bad publicity that included the murder of 17-year-old Liam Ashley in a prison van;[36] the murder of Karl Kuchenbecker by Graeme Burton six months after he was released on parole;[37] and the Auditor General's critical report on the Probation Service's management of parolees.[38] Matthews exacerbated speculation about his leadership during the Burton debacle when he claimed: "There's no blood on my hands".[39] After the Auditor General's report was released in 2009, Collins refused to express confidence in Matthews and media commentators expected him to resign. However, Matthews refused to do so and served out his term; on his retirement he admitted he had dealt with so many crises, the Department was like a "landmine".[40]

Ray Smith, former deputy chief executive of Work and Income and former deputy chief executive of the Ministry of Social Development's Child, Youth and Family, became chief executive in 2010.[41] Six months into his five-year term, Smith said he intended to shuffle the Department's $1.1 billion annual budget to focus more on rehabilitation and wanted his legacy to be a significant reduction in New Zealand's high reoffending rates.[42]


In 2012 the Government announced that an extra $65 million would be put into rehabilitation, in an effort to reduce re-offending by 25% within five years.[43] As part of the package, Corrections Minister Anne Tolley indicated the 14,000 offenders who spend time in prison on remand each year would become eligible for rehabilitation for the first time.[44] Rethinking Crime and Punishment spokesman Kim Workman supported the proposals but said it would be difficult to achieve the change given the "very high imprisonment rate" in New Zealand.[45]

Violence in prisons

In April 2015, a 44-year-old inmate, Benton Parata, died in Christchurch Men's Prison after being bashed by three other prisoners.[46] An expert on gangs in New Zealand, Dr Jarrod Gilbert, said revenge attacks could "snowball" out of control while the prison officer's union said assaults in New Zealand prisons already occurred almost daily and it was only "good luck" there weren't more deaths.[47]


In March 2009 analysis of the previous 60 months, showed that 70% of prisoners reoffend within two years of being released from prison and 52% return to prison within five years (some of them more than once). For teenage prisoners, the recidivism rate (return to prison) is 71%.[48] The Government estimated that if it reached its reduced reoffending target of 25%, there would be 600 fewer people in prison by 2017. In 2014, prison numbers went up (to 8,700) rather than down, due to more offenders being held on remand.[49]

See also


  1. "Total Appropriations for Each Vote". 2016 Budget. The Treasury.
  2. "Corrections Act 2004". New Zealand Legislation. Parliamentary Counsel Office.
  3. "Department of Justice (Restructuring) Act 1995". New Zealand Legislation. Parliamentary Counsel Office.
  4. "Summary Proceedings Act 1957". New Zealand Legislation. Parliamentary Counsel Office.
  5. "$40m to stop crims reoffending 'a failure'". New Zealand Herald. 6 December 2007.
  6. Fact Sheet 54 – Private Prisons – Ideology or evidence led? Howard league for Penal Reform.
  7. Govt awards first private prison contract, Dominion Post,14 December 2010.
  8. New private prison at Wiri given green light, New Zealand Herald, 8 March 2012.
  9. Budget 2012: $65m on reducing reoffending, NZ Herald, 21 May 2012
  10. Lapsley, John (11 August 2011). "Cheap, easy and better than jail school". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  12. "Tough justice a hardy campaign perennial". The New Zealand Herald. 4 February 2012.
  13. "Cost of prisoner upkeep soars". Dominion Post. 30 July 2007.
  14. "It's a prison, so colour it orange (and green)". The New Zealand Herald. 31 March 2011.
  15. "Controversial private prison opens". The New Zealand Herald. 4 February 2012.
  16. NZ housing 'still way overpriced' says English, NZ Herald, 1 July 2010.
  17. "Guard who smuggled drugs to inmates charged". The New Zealand Herald. 28 April 2011.
  18. Prisons boss puts focus on changing inmates' lives, New Zealand Herald, 8 June 2011.
  19. World Prison Brief, New Zealand, International Centre for Prison Studies,
  20. National Health Committee 2010, p. 23.
  21. Department of Corrections Offender Volumes Report 2011, p 18.
  22. "Release from prison on conditions". Department of Corrections. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  23. About Time: Turning people away from a life of crime and reducing re-offending. Department of Corrections. May 2001. p. 3.
  24. "Prison facts and statistics". Department of Corrections. December 2011. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  25. About Time 2001. p. 28.
  26. "Official nod makes Wiri biggest prison precinct". The New Zealand Herald. 2 August 2011.
  27. Sensible sentencing leads to reduction in prison population InfoNews, 12 October 2011.
  28. Prison plans "nonsensical – Labour, New Zealand Herald, 22 March 2012.
  29. Why build a private prison when we have empty beds in public ones? PSA Media Release, 9 March 2012.
  30. Minister defends prison closure plans New Zealand Herald, 23 March 2012
  31. 1 2 "How Corrections is structured". Department of Corrections. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  32. Stewart, Matt (4 May 2012). "140 jobs on line in Corrections rejig". Stuff. Fairfax NZ News. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  33. $40m to stop crims reoffending 'a failure', NZ Herald, 6 December 2001
  34. "Farewell interview: Chief Executive Barry Matthews". Corrections News. Nov/Dec 2010, p 3.
  35. "Power calls for inquiry into Corrections". Press Release: New Zealand National Party, 23 January 2006.
  36. "Go-ahead for waist restraints". The New Zealand Herald. 21 February 2008.
  37. "Kuchenbecker case against police to be heard in court today". The New Zealand Herald. 19 December 2011.
  38. Report of the Controller & Auditor General New Zealand, Department of Corrections: Managing offenders on parole, Kevin Brady, February 2009.
  39. "'There's no blood on my hands', says Corrections chief". The New Zealand Herald. 6 March 2007.
  40. "Prisons boss ends six years' hard labour". The New Zealand Herald. 21 December 2010.
  41. "New Corrections boss". The New Zealand Herald. 23 November 2010. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
  42. "Prisons boss puts focus on changing inmates' lives". The New Zealand Herald. 8 June 2011.
  43. Budget 2012: $65m on reducing reoffending, New Zealand Herald, 21 May 2012.
  44. Remand drug rehab and education plan, Stuff website 2 May 2012.
  45. Davison, Isaac (22 May 2012). "Prison reformers praise funding plan". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 22 May 2012.
  46. Three charged with murdering Christchurch inmate Benton Parata, New Zealand Herald, 2 April 2015
  47. Prison beatings a daily danger, New Zealand Herald, 3 April 2015
  48. Reconviction patterns of released prisoners: A 60-months follow-up analysis March 2009, Arul Nadesu, Principal Strategic Adviser, Department of Corrections, pp 6–7
  49. Tougher laws blamed for prisoner rise, New Zealand Herald, 14 November 2014

External links

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