RIS: Access to offence-based rehabilitative programmes for remand prisoners

Read the complete Regulatory Impact Statement: Access to offence-based rehabilitative programmes PDF, 2.2 MB

Purpose of document

Decision sought:
Cabinet agreement to policy decision about extending remand prisoners access to offence-based rehabilitative programmes.
Advising agencies:
Department of Corrections
Proposing Ministers:
Minister of Corrections
Date finalised:
6 December 2023

Problem definition

The corrections system was set up with the paramount purpose of public safety through assisting with the rehabilitation and reintegration of sentenced prisoners. However, there is now a higher proportion of prisoners who are on remand, and Corrections needs to adapt to provide increased support to these prisoners to improve public safety and rehabilitation outcomes.

Executive Summary

There has been a significant increase in the proportion of prisoners on remand. As of 1 October 2023, the total number of remand prisoners was 3,858, comprising 43 percent of the total prison population of 8,893 prisoners. Of these remand prisoners, 65 percent were remand accused and 35 percent were remand convicted.

Remand accused prisoners are in prison awaiting trial and have the right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZBORA) and international human rights instruments. In addition, remand accused prisoners have the right to have the time and resources to prepare their defence, and to minimum standards of criminal procedure that they should not be required to make a statement or provide evidence that may point to their guilt. Remand convicted prisoners have been proven guilty and convicted, and are in prison awaiting sentencing.

There is an opportunity to provide greater support to these remand prisoners and better fulfil Corrections' legislative purpose of contributing to public safety, by improving access to rehabilitation and reintegration.

The options considered are to:

  • amend the Corrections Act 2004 (the Act) to enable remand accused and remand convicted prisoners access to offence-based rehabilitative programmes, in addition to sentenced prisoners
  • amend the Act to enable remand convicted prisoners access to offence-based rehabilitative programmes, in addition to sentenced prisoners, and
  • review and reprioritise funding and resourcing that is currently available for programmes and activities for remand accused and remand convicted prisoners.

While these options have not been publicly consulted on, previous public consultation was carried out in August-September 2022 and at select committee in July-August 2023 on a related proposal to enable accused and convicted prisoners to mix to participate in programmes. Overall, submitters were supportive of rehabilitation commencing as soon as possible, given that remand prisoners are spending increasing periods on remand.

However, many submitters stated that the legislation should not depart from international obligations, and Corrections should increase the resources available for programmes as opposed to mixing prisoners. Results from the opt-in survey for the justice sector Long

Term Insights Briefing showed a "strong push for rehabilitative supports to commence at [remand] stage, rather than down the track, once sentenced and convicted."

The preferred option is to amend the Act to enable remand convicted prisoners access to offence-based rehabilitative programmes, in addition to sentenced prisoners, and to place stronger expectations on Corrections to provide non-offence focused support to remand accused prisoners. [Redacted 9(2)(h)]

It is not possible to estimate the number of prisoners that may be impacted by this change, but in the short-term we expect that a relatively small number of prisoners will attend offence-based programmes following the legislation change and that this could be carried out on a case-by-case basis. In the longer term, this option will enable changes to the design and delivery of programmes in prisons, and address some operational challenges in the remand space. There is significant operational complexity to work through with this change, such as how to provide programmes at predominantly remand sites that do not have many programme rooms, and how to manage ongoing staffing shortages, including shortages of psychologists and programme facilitators.

Limitations and Constraints on Analysis

One of the Government's first 100-day priorities is to amend legislation to extend remand prisoners' access to offence-based rehabilitative programmes. The scope of this RIS is therefore narrow and does not consider broader solutions to the growing remand population, such as decreasing court wait times. The time available to complete this RIS was also constrained.

There are limitations on the data available. For example, we cannot predict how many remand prisoners will choose to participate in programmes under the preferred option, and the specific programmes this might include, because these decisions will be made on an individual basis. Within the timeframes available, we were unable to review any evidence on whether increased access to rehabilitation programmes for prisoners on remand will improve re-offending outcomes and public safety. Limited information is available internationally given that comparable jurisdictions do not provide offence-based programmes to prisoners on remand.

While some data is available that indicates that starting a programme and not finishing it can increase risks of re-offending, other data is limited, such as the impact that including remand prisoners in programmes may have on outcomes for sentenced prisoners and whether it could impact their re-offending outcomes.

We are also unable to calculate the potential costs of the preferred option because in the short-term it is likely to result in only a small number of remand prisoners attending offence-based programmes. In the long-term, more significant changes will be made to the way Corrections designs and delivers programmes, which will address operational challenges.

There was no opportunity to publicly consult on these options due to time constraints, but relevant feedback from previous public consultation on a related change in the current Corrections Amendment Bill was used to inform the options analysis.