Editorial - Innovation in Corrections

The New Zealand Department of Corrections is in an enviable position internationally to deliver a world-leading correctional system. We have a clear understanding of our offender population and a strong connection to other agencies. We have a well-established evidence base that we use to shape our policies and to understand what works.

We are small enough to innovate, and work within a public service that fosters collaboration and inquiry.

In this edition we have taken a broad focus on innovation in Corrections. We explore emerging research, outline innovative programmes to reduce re-offending, and discuss the application of new theoretical approaches to understanding human behavior.

Hot off the press, Devon Polaschek’s article Do relationships matter? Examining the quality of probation officers’ interactions with parolees in preventing recidivism provides a fascinating exploration of the role of human relationships in creating change. Devon discusses how the supervision of offenders in the community has changed over generations and jurisdictions, and can be anything from intensive surveillance designed to detect any act of criminality or non-compliance, to social work-based case management. Depending on the main goals of supervision, the importance of the relationship between the staff member and the offender has also varied. However, the evidence suggests that relationship quality is related to recidivism.

Jill Bowman sets out the interesting findings from the recent Comorbid substance use disorders and mental health disorders among New Zealand prisoners study. This 2016 research provides updated information on the state of New Zealand prisoners’ mental health and drug and alcohol problems. Results show that 91% of prisoners had been diagnosed with either a substance use disorder or a mental health disorder over their lifetime. Over the last 12 months, almost two-thirds of prisoners had been diagnosed with either of these disorders – three times higher than the general population.

We explore some initiatives that have been innovative both in New Zealand and international jurisdictions. Rob Jones presents a case study on the Hutt Valley justice sector innovation project that highlights this excellent joined-up Justice Sector initiative. Ben Hehir looks to the United States for evidence of effectiveness on Project HOPE, which offers “swift, certain and fair” sanctions. Introduced in 2004, the approach uses frequent drug testing and short terms of imprisonment in response to sentence breaches. This approach has spread throughout the United States and is being examined by policy makers worldwide.

In terms of New Zealand’s offender treatment programmes, we are at the forefront of evidence-based practice. In the article Ka Üpane, Hannah Cleland and Juanita Ryan describe how the over-arching goal for the pilot was to provide meaningful and empirically supported treatment to high-risk, violent, short-serving offenders. One basic premise is that the offenders in the programme have not developed, or mastered, essential pro-social skills and must be assisted to develop these skills.
In his article, Employment as a factor in desistance from crime, Stephen Cunningham sets out his game-changing approach to working with employers to help offenders into meaningful, productive and non-offending lives.

Finally, a couple of articles examine some fascinating new theoretical approaches to problem-solving provided by behavioral economists and the ‘nudge’ concepts.

I hope this issue of the journal will encourage you to innovate in your area of work.

Suzanne Kennedy
Chief Policy Adviser
Department of Corrections