Innovations in reducing re-offending

Juanita Ryan
Director of Programmes and Interventions, Department of Corrections

Robert Jones
Policy Adviser, Department of Corrections

Author biographies:
Juanita Ryan has worked for Corrections for the past eight years; starting as a senior psychologist in Hamilton and moving into the principal psychologist role two years later. Prior to Corrections she held roles at a training facility for clinical psychology students and within a mental health team at Waikato District Health Board.

Robert Jones is a policy adviser in the Policy Team at the Department of Corrections. He studied design at Massey University and, after graduating, was briefly employed at Corrections as a public information officer. He then spent five years as a freelance video editor, before returning to Corrections as a ministerial services adviser in October 2012.


Corrections has placed reducing re-offending at the forefront of our collective effort. We know that well-designed rehabilitation interventions delivered to appropriately selected offenders can reduce re-offending. We know that offenders who have access to education, training and employment opportunities are more likely to find sustainable jobs and develop more stable lifestyles. We know that prisoners who are supported to reconnect with their prosocial whänau and communities are more likely to change their own lives.

Over recent years we have significantly redeveloped our services to deliver better outcomes in these areas. We have evaluated, refined and expanded offender access to existing initiatives. We have also designed and implemented new initiatives.

We have transformed our services over such a short period that we can forget to reflect on our achievements. A number of innovative highlights from the past five years are outlined below. These initiatives are just a few examples of the progress we have made.

Offender management

Completing a prison sentence or a community-based sentence or order can be challenging for offenders, particularly if they have behavioural or developmental issues. We actively manage offenders to support them through their sentence, improve their attitudes, and help them take advantage of health, rehabilitation, education, employment, and reintegration opportunities.

Over the last five years we have enhanced the way we manage and deliver services to offenders. Key initiatives include the Industry, Treatment and Learning Framework, Case Management, the Right Track framework and the Reducing Re-offending Boost Programme.

The Industry, Treatment and Learning Framework

Offenders often lead unstructured and unstable lifestyles in the community, which can contribute to their offending and anti-social behavior. The Industry, Treatment and Learning Framework has been designed to engage prisoners in a 40-hour week with a particular focus on activities related to rehabilitation and reintegration, education and training, employment, and other constructive activities. These activities help prisoners develop skills, experiences and behaviours that assist them to manage the inevitable challenges that will confront them when reintegrating. The activities also help them find employment to assist in maintaining a stable lifestyle on release from prison.

Corrections originally piloted the concept as “Working Prisons” at three sites in late 2012. A working group then developed an overarching framework for the concept. By 2015 we had implemented the framework and converted all public prisons into Working Prisons. The concept has been renamed to reflect the range of activities prisoners engage in under the framework. Over the coming years, we will continue work to ensure all sites are fully engaged as centres of Industry, Treatment and Learning.

Case management

Corrections recognises that our efforts to support prisoners to change their behaviour must begin from the time they are received in custody. Corrections previously employed sentence planners, who were responsible for identifying an offender’s activities for the offender plan and writing the Parole Assessment Reports. In order to move to end-to-end case management of prisoners, we introduced new “case manager” roles in 2011.

Case managers take a more active role in making decisions about a prisoner’s management and motivating them to complete activities on their plan. They are responsible for ensuring that prisoners and remandees have an individualised pathway of rehabilitative and reintegrative interventions which are aligned to their assessed risk and identified needs. This is achieved in a number of ways, such as face-to-face contact with the individual, collaboration with other staff, and referrals to both internal rehabilitative programmes and external reintegrative providers. To help assess risk and identify factors contributing to the individual’s offending, we introduced a dynamic risk assessment tool for case managers, namely the Structured Dynamic Assessment Case Management – 21 items (SDAC-21), in July 2013.

The field of case management has continued to evolve since 2011, most notably with the implementation of the Integrated Practice Framework in July 2014. The framework supported case manager practice to move from a task based process to an offender-centric approach where decisions are made based on the risk, need, and responsivity of the individual prisoner or remandee.

Case management has led to improvements in:

  • the assessment of prisoner needs
  • prisoner motivation to complete activities
  • the scheduling of programmes
  • the level of reintegration support.

As at June 2016, we employed approximately 200 FTE case managers. Over the 2016/17 period an additional 44 roles will be established nationwide.

The Right Track framework

As part of our efforts to reduce re-offending, Corrections committed to taking a more active management approach to our daily interactions with offenders. In accordance with this commitment, we introduced the prison-based Right Track framework in 2012.

The Right Track framework assists frontline staff to make informed decisions and take timely and appropriate action to support offender decisions and actions. It outlines the knowledge, behaviours, skills, tools and systems we need to encourage offenders to make good choices in their lives. First, it’s about supporting staff to make the right choice and take the right action with prisoners at the right time. Then, it’s about influencing prisoners to do the same in their daily lives.

A key feature of the model is identifying that prisoners are at different stages in their willingness to change. Once staff have identified the prisoner’s stage of change, the framework helps them select the appropriate tactics, actions or responses. It also helps staff set immediate, measurable targets to support prisoners to achieve the desired change.

Staff from all parts of Corrections – including custody, case management, health, psychological services, offender employment and education – have important daily interactions with prisoners. Accordingly, a multi-disciplinary approach is required for Right Track to succeed. Staff meet regularly, work together, make informed decisions and agree on actions to support prisoners through their sentence.

Corrections commissioned an independent evaluation of the Right Track pilot in 2013. The findings indicated that the framework had been implemented successfully and that the activities were being completed as intended. The framework is now standard practice in New Zealand prisons.

The Reducing Re-offending Boost Programme

Corrections staff provide as much targeted support to as many offenders as possible. In December 2014, we initiated the Boost Programme, which aimed to reduce re-offending by re-prioritising our resources from high-intensity low-volume interventions towards less intensive interventions that could be delivered to more offenders.

The project formally closed on 30 June 2016. Compared to the previous financial year, in the 2015/16 period:

  • programme attendance by remand prisoners increased by 128%
  • attendance by prisoners serving short-term sentences increased by 79%
  • attendance by prisoners serving long-term sentences increased by 21%.

Overall, the initiative significantly increased the number of offenders who had access to programmes, particularly those for whom access has historically been difficult.

Offender health and wellbeing

Offenders are more likely to have physical and mental health issues than the general public. Many offenders arrive in prison with serious issues resulting from a lifetime of inadequate care; a lack of screening for chronic conditions; violence, alcohol and drug abuse; and poverty-related illness. We support offenders to improve their wellbeing as doing so increases their ability to participate in our programmes, promotes healthier lifestyles, and enables them to engage in a more meaningful and constructive way with their whänau and wider society.

Over the last few years we have expanded and improved our existing services, including screening prisoners for hearing loss in some prisons and gaining Cornerstone® accreditation for all public prison health centres. Cornerstone® accreditation gives an assurance that our health centres are providing prisoners with a level of care equivalent to what they could expect in the community. We are also conducting a case review of all apparent suicides in prisons since 1 July 2010, and introducing a well-validated Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) tool which is used internationally to screen for suicide risk in custody and community settings.

Key innovative initiatives from the last five years include Smokefree Prisons, the High Dependency Unit, the Mental Health Screening Tool, and the Mental Health “In Reach” Service.

Smokefree Prisons

Corrections is committed to providing a safe and healthy work and living environment for everybody on our premises. Our commitment includes reducing harm caused by secondhand smoke. On 1 July 2011, all New Zealand prisons became smokefree. Prior to the decision, we offered support to prisoners and staff to quit smoking. We now offer incoming prisoners nicotine replacement therapy to help them stop smoking. Within a year we saw a 72% reduction in fire-related incidents, fewer opportunities for prisoners to use lighters to melt plastic into dangerous weapons, and a rapid and substantial improvement in indoor air quality. We were proud to receive a Public Sector Excellence Award from the Institute of Public Administration of New Zealand for our smoke-free prisons in 2012.

High Dependency Unit

Older people have more complex health-related needs than the general population and require more support to maintain their level of functioning. To support an ageing prison population, Corrections opened a new High Dependency Unit at Rimutaka Prison in 2012. At the end of 2015, the unit was expanded and a new 10-bed wing was opened. As a result, 30 prisoners can be placed in the unit at any one time.

The unit provides assistance to prisoners with complex health issues that make it difficult for them to function independently in a mainstream prison environment. These prisoners receive appropriate care, from trained health staff, in a fit-for-purpose environment. The unit has greatly improved the level of healthcare for this small high-needs section of the prison population.

Enhanced Mental Health Services

Research has shown that mental health disorders and illnesses are more prevalent among prisoners than the general population. We work to address an offender’s mental health issues to improve their overall wellbeing.

In order to more effectively identify and treat prisoners’ mental illness, Corrections introduced a new Mental Health Screening Tool in 2012. The tool is used to screen all prisoners over 18 years of age. Prisoners who screen as “positive” can be referred to Forensic Services for a specialised assessment. If Forensic Services assess a prisoner as having mild to moderate needs, they are referred back to the prison health centre. Health staff then decide whether to refer the prisoner to a medical officer, nurse or contracted provider. If Forensic Services assess a prisoner as having serious needs, they receive treatment directly from the forensic team. In acute cases prisoners may be transferred to a secure forensic mental health facility. From 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2016, staff conducted approximately 27,000 Initial Health Assessments, which included mental health screenings. Thirty-six percent of those prisoners were referred to forensic services for a specialised assessment.

In 2014, Corrections also introduced a new Mental Health “In-Reach” service, where experienced clinicians are contracted to work in selected prisons. The clinicians support prisoners with their mental health needs, for example by providing brief interventions. They also support our health and custodial staff to manage prisoners with mental health issues. The service aims to improve health outcomes for prisoners, reduce self-harm incidents, reduce transfers to At Risk Units, reduce referrals to Forensic Services and improve continuity of care on release.

In 2016 the government also approved a package to better support offenders with mental health issues. The additional support services include: improved mental health services to prisoners and community offenders; supported accommodation for select offenders with significant mental health concerns or cognitive impairment; social workers and counsellors to work with female offenders dealing with trauma; and a wrap-around support service for offenders with multiple mental health needs and their families. Corrections is currently implementing these services.

Offender rehabilitation

Rehabilitation interventions give offenders the opportunity to learn the skills they require to change their patterns of behaviour through education and therapy.

We have enhanced our existing services over recent years including refining the Māori Focus Units and Māori Therapeutic Programme into our Te Tirohanga programme; and increasing placements in our medium intensity rehabilitation suite of programmes. Key initiatives from the last five years include the Family Violence Programme, the new approach to AOD treatment in prisons, AOD Aftercare, and the Short Intervention Programme for Child Sex Offenders. These initiatives are further outlined below.

Family Violence Programme

Corrections’ family violence programmes are delivered by contracted providers, who previously operated under their own individual guidelines. In 2011 and 2012 we reviewed our community-based domestic violence programmes delivered by contracted providers. We found variance in the types of programmes delivered, with some not adhering to evidence-based practice for addressing offending needs. Specifically, most programmes were mixing all risk levels of offenders, and not using effective therapeutic models to facilitate thinking and behavioural change.

In order to streamline the delivery of the services, we developed a new targeted Family Violence Programme (FVP) in 2013. The programme is delivered individually or in groups to male offenders assessed as low to low-moderate risk of re-offending. Medium and high risk male offenders are now matched by risk and need and attend departmental Medium Intensity Rehabilitation Programmes or receive indivdualised psychological services. The FVP focuses on better assessing risks, treating the needs of offenders, and helping them understand motivations for their abusive behaviour. It includes modules on managing emotions, beliefs and attitudes, substance use, relationship skills, and the effects of family violence.

We ran a pilot of the programme with 13 community-based family violence providers from October 2014 to September 2015. At the same time, we introduced it into prisons to test it in a custodial setting. In addition to the prison-based programme, the FVP for community-based offenders was fully introduced in June 2016.

The Short Intervention Programme for Child Sex Offenders

Corrections provides differing levels of individualised and group treatment for child sex offenders. We operate two long-running Special Treatment Units that provide intensive group programmes for medium to high-risk child sex offenders: Kia Marama at Rolleston Prison and Te Piriti at Auckland Prison. These programmes provide treatment to a small but significant percentage of the total number of child sex offenders.

Prior to 2012, a large number of lower risk child sex offenders were not receiving group treatment in prison. Instead, these offenders tended to engage in brief individual work with a psychologist. This approach was resource intensive and not considered the best use of the psychologist’s time given their primary focus on higher risk offenders. To address this gap, Corrections introduced the Short Intervention Programme (SIP), which is run at sites adjacent to the two Special Treatment Units. The programme runs in three phases: a pre-intervention assessment phase, a group intervention phase, and a post intervention phase.

The SIP has ensured that more child sex offenders engage in group-based treatment to address their offending needs. We conduct between 80 and 90 assessments for the SIP each year. Of the low-risk child sex offenders who are assessed, 60 are placed in the programme each year.

The comprehensive assessment process also highlights previously unidentified higher risk offenders and allows us to place them in the high-intensity Special Treatment Units. These high risk offenders may not have been consistently identified before the SIP was introduced, and are now able to receive treatment to address the causes of their offending.

AOD treatment in prisons

Alcohol and other drug (AOD) misuse is a major driver of crime. Corrections previously only delivered treatment to prisoners through specialised Drug Treatment Units. This meant many other prisoners were not being provided with access to interventions. From 2012, we implemented a comprehensive new approach to addressing a prisoner’s AOD needs. The new approach aimed to ensure that every prisoner with an identified need had access to an appropriate treatment, regardless of their location, risk, and sentence length.

As a result of the approach the following interventions are now available in prisons:

  • Brief Support: this motivational programme is aimed at prisoners who are unsure whether they want to change how they use AOD. It is available to all prisoners at all prisons.
  • Intermediate Support: this programme is aimed at prisoners who are willing to change but are not sure how. It is available to all sentenced prisoners at all prisons.
  • Intensive Treatment: this programme is aimed at prisoners with significant AOD issues. It is delivered at select prisons by contracted service providers.

The new approach has significantly increased the number of prisoners who have access to programmes that address their AOD issues. Since 2012/13, approximately 10,000 prisoners accessed the intensive, intermediate or brief support programmes.

AOD aftercare

On release to the community, ex-prisoners previously managed their AOD use through outpatient or community addiction treatment services. The long waiting lists for these services meant offenders risked losing their motivation to stay AOD free. To address this gap, we began implementing a suite of three AOD aftercare programmes in 2016. These new services will provide maintenance support for offenders who have completed more intensive AOD treatment in prison to both support their AOD goals and also to assist their transition back into the community. The aftercare project also focuses on improving access to high quality community-based residential AOD treatment for offenders with high dependency needs. The aftercare project will be evaluated in the 2017/2018 financial year.

Offender industry and learning

Offenders who find sustainable employment in the community are less likely to re-offend. However, a large percentage of prisoners have limited education or work experience. In order to improve an offender’s prospects of finding a long-term job, we offer a wide range of educational, training and employment opportunities.

Over recent years we have expanded and improved existing services including:

  • opening new trade and technical training workshops in Christchurch Men’s Prison
  • increasing our partnerships with organisations who want to employ offenders; expanding literacy and numeracy support so it is delivered by industry instructors
  • expanding prisoner access to qualifications.

Key initiatives from the last five years include Secure Online Learning, Intensive Literacy and Numeracy, and a Parenting Programme.

Secure Online Learning

Corrections heavily restricts digital mediums in prisons to prevent prisoners from using them in ways that are counterproductive to their rehabilitation, such as intimidating victims and organising gang activities in the community.

Despite the need to protect public safety, we are aware that prisoners need to improve their digital literacy to function in society. Accordingly, in August 2015 we introduced the new Secure Online Learning (SOL) programme to provide prisoners with restricted access to educational websites. Education tutors now facilitate learning in SOL suites at 14 prisons to improve prisoners’ digital literacy and employment prospects.

Over the coming year we will increase the number of pre-approved websites; explore e-learning platforms; introduce Microsoft Office; provide access to rehabilitation-related sites, and implement new SOL computer suites at the remaining sites across the prison estate.

Intensive Literacy and Numeracy Support

An offender’s ability to function in society is significantly impeded if they have unmet literacy and numeracy skills. Up to 63 percent of prisoners do not have the skills to be competent in everyday literacy tasks.

Prisoners with very high needs were previously unable to access support similar to that in the community. Additionally, very limited literacy is a responsivity barrier to rehabilitative treatment which meant that potentially high numbers of offenders were not benefiting as fully as they could do from Corrections’ rehabilitative opportunities. To address this gap, in October 2015 we implemented a new approach to prison literacy and numeracy support. We now have education tutors who conduct literacy screening assessments as part of each prisoner’s induction into prison. We also contract providers to deliver intensive literacy and numeracy support in prisons, with Te Wananga o Aotearoa delivering support nationally, and Methodist Mission delivering support in Otago only.

Prisoners with the highest need are able to access up to 100 hours of the intensive literacy programme. Those with more moderate needs are supported by Secure Online Learning; Howard League and other volunteers; and programmes on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework that are delivered by external providers and industry instructors. We have also brought the assessment of prisoner needs “in-house” to ensure those with the highest needs are prioritised for the new intensive programme. In 2015/16, 961 prisoners started the new intensive programme, with promising initial results.

Parenting programme

Corrections is committed to supporting offenders to connect with their prosocial whänau and reduce intergenerational offending. In 2015, we introduced a new Parenting Support service for prisoners. The service is designed to help prisoners learn parenting skills and communicate with their child. Participants also have access to community support once they are released from prison, which ranges from a few home visits to phone calls in the first three months after release. The programme has a broad eligibility criterion and is not strictly for parents. It can provide services for a prisoner who is not a parent, but who wants to strengthen the role they play with the children in their lives. The service promotes strong whänau connections and improving the lives of the children of prisoners.

Offender reintegration

Corrections provides reintegrative services to help offenders transition from prison back into the wider community. These services aim to help offenders remain crime-free and settle into the wider community as prosocial members of society.

Over recent years we have purchased a whole suite of reintegrative services which range from immediate-needs services to intensive services that provide offenders with employment support, accommodation support and assistance to reconnect with their whänau and communities. We have also significantly expanded access to supported accommodation. Key initiatives include Employment Support Services, Out of Gate, Whare Oranga Ake, and Guided Release.

Employment support services

We know that offenders who successfully complete treatment programmes and then find sustainable employment are more likely to move on from their criminal behaviour and become productive members of society. In 2014, we introduced an employment support service for prisoners who are due for release, and motivated offenders on a community-based sentence or order.

Contracted providers support offenders to find and maintain employment through active case management, job placement, and in-work support. The service offers two levels of in-work support: a Full Package for offenders without employment and a Partial Package for offenders who have already obtained, or are returning to, employment. Support is offered on an individualised rather than group basis and is ongoing for up to six months once a job is secured. In the 2015/16 financial year, 320 offenders were enrolled on the Full Package service, which is 203 more offenders than the previous period.

Out of Gate

Reintegrative programmes have generally focused on assisting long-term prisoners into the community. However, short-serving prisoners (who often cycle in and out of prison with limited opportunity for meaningful support) also face significant barriers to reintegration. To address this gap, Corrections launched a new navigation-style service called Out of Gate in 2013 for the approximately 2,150 short-serving offenders being released from prison each year.

Contracted Out of Gate navigators meet with prisoners before they are released to assess their needs and complete a reintegration plan. The navigator supports the ex-prisoner during the first four weeks following release (for the standard service) or the first 12 weeks following release (for the enhanced service). The navigator assists the ex-prisoner to address their identified re-integrative needs. This may include picking them up at the prison gate, transporting them to the required services, helping with paper work, and linking with services for whänau and children of offenders.

Whare Oranga Ake

Corrections is committed to delivering better outcomes for Māori as they are disproportionately represented in all stages of the criminal justice system. We offer a range of tikanga-based programmes, which incorporate Māori customs and Te Ao Māori (the Māori world view).

In 2011, we introduced Whare Oranga Ake to help Māori prisoners reintegrate into the community by using a kaupapa environment to strengthen cultural identity in a culturally responsive context. Corrections has two whare; one 24-bed unit at Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison and one 16-bed unit at Spring Hill Corrections Facility. Whare Oranga Ake are similar to mainstream external self-care units. They are located outside the secure perimeter of the prison and only minimum security prisoners who have already completed relevant treatment programmes are eligible for placement. Whare Oranga Ake are designed to help prisoners train for employment; find sustainable employment and accommodation on release; and form supportive networks with iwi, hapu and community organisations.

Guided Release

In Budget 2016, the government set aside funding for a new Guided Release initiative, which is now in place at all public prisons. Case managers work intensively with long-term prisoners to identify, plan and carry out specific meaningful reintegration activities. The activities vary depending on the prisoner’s need and suitability, but will generally take place outside of the prison site.

The initiative provides an additional opportunity for suitable prisoners to address reintegrative needs prior to their final release. The case manager’s oversight may gradually lessen as the prisoner’s final release date approaches, and as oversight from an approved external sponsor increases. The Guided Release process will bring together the prisoner, their family/community support people and Corrections staff in comprehensive reintegration planning, allowing for a smooth transition from custody to community.


Although Corrections has made significant progress over the past five years, we can still do more. In August 2016, we launched Change Lives Shape Futures, our strategic plan for the next 12 months. This year we will focus on enhancing the safety and capability of our staff; strengthening the safety of the community; engaging more offenders in industry, treatment and learning; and modernising our infrastructure. Our focus areas have shifted slightly, but our vision and goal remain the same – to create lasting change by breaking the cycle of re-offending. We know we can keep improving, keep innovating, and keep making a difference in the lives of offenders, their whänau and the New Zealand public.