Aukaha te Waka – the Future of Probation 2016 – 2021

Brent Reilly
Regional Director Practice Delivery – Central Region, Department of Corrections

Author biography:
Brent started working as a probation officer in Hamilton in 2000. Since then, he has held a number of frontline probation roles and management roles in Corrections. Prior to his current role he was a practice manager in the Central region. He has a Bachelor of Social Science in Sociology and Psychology.


On any operational day, probation staff see on average 3,048 people, complete 250 home visits, have 1,573 people reporting to complete community work sentences, and provide 84 reports to courts and the New Zealand Parole Board. How we conduct these interactions and how we practise, contributes towards changing people’s lives and improving community safety.

Ensuring that we are always learning, and developing our practice in line with international research on ‘what works’, enables us to be more effective in our frontline practice and work towards improved outcomes. July 2016 saw the launch of the programme “Aukaha te Waka” The Future of Probation 2016 – 2021.

Background – probation practice

The ninth of August 2016 marked 130 years of probation in New Zealand. The New Zealand Probation Service was formed in 1886. New Zealand pioneered the service long before any other country in the British Empire, including Great Britain. The legislation “First Offenders’ Probation Act of 1886”, which established probation in New Zealand, was introduced by the Hon. Joseph Augustus Tole who was Minister of Justice from 1884 to 1887.

Since the inception of probation in New Zealand there have been a number of legislative changes (1954 Criminal Justice Act, 1984 Criminal Justice Act) which have further set the sentences/orders managed by probation, and also developed probation practice in the philosophies, policies, direction and focus. For example, the 1985 Act placed greater emphasis on community participation and greater community liaison activities rather than one-on-one casework.

Historically, the role of a probation officer was regarded largely in terms of sentence compliance, with a strong overlay of social support. This often led to staff focusing more on offenders’ general needs than their criminogenic needs. Dale (2006) states that “before 1995, the majority of probation staff had social work backgrounds, and though they approached their work with a strong human service orientation, practice and focus shifted heavily towards ensuring that the sentence or order was completed without undue complication”.

2001 saw the launch of the IOM (Integrated Offender Management) Framework, bringing the psychology of criminal conduct, in particular RNR (Risk, Need, Responsivity) to be a bigger part of our overall practice across Corrections. IOM introduced comprehensive assessment of risks and needs, and assessed motivation for change. It also saw the development of a sentence plan prescribing relevant rehabilitative and re-integrative activities.

A number of events through the next decade, mainly involving violent re-offending, served to change this previous single focus. Probation practice began to change, with two key areas of enlarged focus. The first was on identification and management of acute and dynamic risk, and reducing the potential harm. The second was in rehabilitation, with probation officers playing an increasing role.

These aspects were developed when Corrections embarked on a significant Change Programme in community probation from 2009 to 2014. The programme redefined the purpose of the probation service and the way it worked. The new focus was on “holding offenders to account and managing them to comply with their sentences and orders, reduce their likelihood of re-offending and minimise their risk of harm to others”.

In June 2012, Corrections completed its redesign of probation practice. We implemented a new Integrated Practice Framework for managing parole, home detention, release on conditions, post detention conditions, extended supervision, intensive supervision and supervision, community detention and community work sentences and orders.

The Integrated Practice Framework set out clear bottom line mandatory standards that probation officers had to meet every time with every case. Our performance against these mandatory standards was assessed each month against a random sample of cases.

Beyond the mandatory standards, the integrated practice framework has a supported decision framework probation officers use, and knowledge bank to make professional judgements and decisions about the management of each individual based on the level of risk they present. Probation officers spend more time working with those who are medium or high risk, and less time with those who have a low likelihood of re-offending or of causing harm to others. They use risk assessment tools that measure changing factors that could contribute to the likelihood of re-offending and risk of harm to others. Probation officers consider the information from these assessments to manage and reduce the risk presented and in turn reduce the likelihood of further offending.

Diagram 1:
The Integrated Practice Framework

Diagram 2:
The Community Probation Practice Leadership Framework

The Change Programme also led to the creation of the chief probation officer role. In 2012, Corrections carried out a wide range of structural changes to unify its effort to reduce re-offending. The restructure formed the Service Development group, which includes the positions of chief custodial officer, chief probation officer, and chief psychologist as the “guardians of best practice”. These roles are responsible for ensuring consistency in practice, and also for designing and developing practice.

The 2009 Change Programme was concluded in 2014, although further practice enhancement initiatives and framework changes were delivered in 2015/16 (e.g. mandatory standards moving to standards of practice in July 2015, common standards across all sentences and orders).

The Change Programme built a strong foundation and framework for our practice and subsequent frontline initiatives have built upon this. The programme won the 2012 International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA) Community Corrections Award.

We are now building further upon this foundation with a new programme called Aukaha te Waka.

Aukaha te Waka

Honoa te haumi, aukaha rawa i ngā rauawa, whakaū rawa he herepuru anō mō ngā rauawa, he raupō hoki mō te wai kei uru ki roto – Add the canoe extension, lash the top boards, reinforce the caulking for the top boards, including with raupō, least water leak in.

To support the new programme, a name was required to reflect the next stage in developing our practice. Given that frontline staff have put significant effort into developing their practice and adopting changes, a title was chosen to build on our strong current practice models and approaches. The concepts for the new programme were discussed with Department of Corrections Director Mäori Neil Campbell who suggested “Aukaha te Waka”. Literally, this means to strengthen, renew or extend a waka. Metaphorically, it suggests building on the current practice model, with the strong intent to further develop practice when working with Mäori.

Our practice

In 2015 a research project examined how well probation officers were following the evidence based practice in the Integrated Practice Framework in their interactions with cases.

The research found that there was more emphasis on risk factors relating to offending, Motivational Interviewing concepts were being used, and staff were taking action to address risk factors or build protective factors. The research identified that practice would benefit from more development of Motivational Interviewing skills, risk assessment, and report-in session structure.

We have gathered ideas from staff, the Executive Leadership Team, Service Development, practice leaders and managers, the Director Mäori and international best practice, and these have informed the objectives in Aukaha te Waka, the Future of Probation.


Currently, Aukaha te Waka has six objectives, under which a number of initiatives fall:

  1. High risk management: Develop increased/enhanced practitioner ability to assess risk and manage high risk cases in the community. Introduce enhanced multi-agency practice models to support Corrections to manage risk.
  2. Motivational Interviewing:Enhance Motivational Interviewing practice for frontline staff to intermediate and advanced levels.
  3. Strengthen Māori practice:Strengthen the work in the community with Mäori. Ensure there is a strong focus on Mäori practice in all aspects of Community Corrections work.
  4. Target cohorts:Focus on particular high risk cohorts such as gangs, alcohol and other drug users, family violence offenders, and offenders with mental health issues, to reduce their re-offending.
  5. Continuity of care:Integrate probation services across transition points from custody, time on remand and beyond the end of sentences or orders. Integrate user feedback to inform and develop user informed practice initiatives.
  6. Support systems and infrastructure:Continue development of Community Corrections sites and technology to support staff. Progress initiatives to improve staff safety.

Proposed implementation

Part of the success of the 2009-2014 Change Programme was that it was driven by frontline staff. Staff contributed ideas and gave feedback on all iterations. A similar approach will be used with Aukaha te Waka. We will involve staff in three main ways:

  1. Focus groups: Managers will hold focus groups for frontline staff throughout the programme.
  2. Intranet:Developments will be published on Corrnet (Corrections’ intranet), and staff are encouraged to contribute ideas and outline any concerns.
  3. Testing, pilots and trials: Staff will test design elements to ensure they are practical and “fit for purpose”.

Another successful aspect of the 2009-2014 Change Programme implementation was input from an Expert Panel, which included external experts and staff. We will appoint a new Expert Panel for Aukaha te Waka, to oversee implementation, and to provide support, expert advice and governance.

The chief probation officer and wider service development team will lead the programme.

Consultation and feedback

We are seeking ideas to help inform Aukaha te Waka.

If you have any questions or feedback, please email Chief Probation Officer Darius Fagan


Dale, M. P. (2006). Probation practice, leadership and effective service delivery: A qualitative study of the perspectives of probation officers and service managers in the New Zealand Probation Service. PhD thesis. Palmerston North: Massey University