Environment, Issues and Implication

In determining how to give best effect to its strategic direction, the Department takes account of the environment in which it operates and the issues that impact upon its operations. These key environmental factors and their implications are not unique to the Department, and most of these factors impact on the justice sector as a whole.

Environmental Factors and Trends Impacting on the Justice Sector

Demographic Trends

New Zealand's population has increased steadily in the last decade, from 3.7 million in 1996 to 4.1 million as at 31 March 2006. It is expected to reach 4.5 million by 2021, with highest rates of growth among Asian, Māori and Pacific peoples. The rising population has led to increased demands for services from justice sector agencies and this will continue. Because significant population growth is occurring, in particular in the upper North Island, it also affects where services need to be located.

Overall, the population is ageing and this will, in the long term, result in a reduction in the proportion of young people and affect the level and nature of demand on the sector. In the short term, however, the child and youth population will not reduce significantly (and high growth is projected in the number of young Māori and Pacific peoples), and this suggests a sustained level of ongoing demand to which the sector will need to respond.

Over the past 20 years, New Zealand has had an increasing number of migrants, many from countries where English is not the first language. This has implications for the sector, such as the need for interpreters for those who cannot speak English.

Family structures are changing with more single parents and 'blended' families. Changing patterns in family formation, dissolution and reconstruction can create instability for some families and/or require different policy and service delivery responses.

Justice Issues and Crime Trends

New Zealand is signatory to a range of multilateral agreements, and accepts the mandate of international agencies to monitor or regulate security, health, human rights and other issues. This means that international law has an increased impact on domestic lawmaking and interpretation, and on reporting obligations.

The globalisation of trade and closer trans-Tasman economic links, facilitated by electronic commerce, means it is particularly important for the legal system to be able to provide effective cross-border law enforcement and redress.

These matters are critical for advancing the Government's priority of economic transformation.

Sophisticated forms of communication technology – such as the Internet – and their increasing availability, mean that crimes like trans-national terrorism, fraud, organised crime and money laundering can be committed faster, with a greater degree of anonymity and of uncertain jurisdiction and enforcement response.

A growing international enforcement effort will be required to combat such crime. As well as posing a challenge, the new communication technologies may be used to improve and facilitate detection of offences and enhance public access to court processes.

Particular Challenges for the Justice Sector

Over the last decade, the justice sector has experienced significant growth in throughput and demand for services, with major implications for its core infrastructure.

The sector is facing a range of pressures: buildings such as courthouses, police stations and prisons are ageing or inadequate in capacity. Government has allocated significant investment to address these issues which includes the building of four new prisons and additional capacity and the upgrading of the infrastructure at most existing prison sites. There are however, ongoing cost pressures, for example, renegotiation of employee agreements, and rising construction costs that the sector will need to manage.

Prison population and re-offending trends are major issues. New Zealand has a higher rate of imprisonment per capita than in comparable countries (such as Canada and Australia). For example, in 2005/06, New Zealand's rate of imprisonment per 100,000 of population was 172, while Australia's was 126. Around 8,000 prisoners are released from prison each year; over half of these are likely to be reconvicted within two years.

An important initiative which took place this year, the Effective Interventions working party, reported to Government with proposals in mid-2006. The Effective Interventions stocktake identified some of the reasons that lie behind these issues and the high social and fiscal costs associated with them.

While there has been a recorded fall in reported crime, prosecution rates have increased and the most serious offenders are now receiving longer sentences. A further key driver of the extended services has been a series of legislative changes in the last five years. These have had flow-on effects in terms of the increasing number of people in the prison system, the full impact of which has still to be felt.

The Government has recently approved a number of non-custodial alternatives to prison as a sentence, to mitigate the broader cost to society of increased rates of incarceration. Alongside these will be a continued focus on a range of early intervention and crime prevention initiatives that target key areas of concern such as youth offending.

Abuse of drugs and alcohol are also factors in the offending of a substantial proportion of offenders, and there is a particular concern about the increased use of methamphetamine and associated offending. Organised crime remains a key issue to be addressed by the sector, particularly in relation to drug-related offending. Tackling crimes where drugs and alcohol feature will require a multi-agency approach. The Department is also committed to expanding its rehabilitation services to substance-dependent offenders.

The Government is putting significant investment into safe communities, a core dimension of its priority of Families

- young and old, through the provision of an additional 1,250 police resources (1,000 sworn and 250 non-sworn) to be recruited over the next three years. The sector is working together to ensure that this commitment is implemented and supported and that flow-on effects for other parts of the sector are managed.

Environment, Issues and Implications More Specific to the Department

General Trends in Crime of Particular Importance to the Department

Given its core role of administering sentences imposed by the courts on individual offenders, trends in criminal offending are perhaps the single most important environmental consideration for the Department.

Because many offences are either not reported or detected, true rates of crime in the wider community are not directly measurable. The best substitute is the National Survey of Crime Victims, which is conducted every five years by the Ministry of Justice. The most recent surveys, in 1996 and 2001, suggested stable levels of crime in the community.1

The total number of crimes, across all categories crime recorded by the Police for the year ending 31 December 2005, was 0.3 percent higher than the previous 12 months, (2004) which recorded the lowest rate of reported offences since 1983.

However, the more serious crimes (violence and sex offences) increased sharply during the early 1990s, and again in the first few years of the present decade. A further small increase occurred last year, which means that numbers of these types of offences are being maintained at relatively high levels.

Police crime resolution rates have also steadily increased in recent years. While Police crime statistics for 2005 show relatively stable rates of recorded crime, over the past decade there has been a steady improvement in resolution rates for reported offences (43.3% in 2005, up from 32.9% in 1992/93). In turn, prosecutions for offences have increased, and more cases have resulted in a conviction. A number of factors may be associated with the increase in both offence resolutions and convictions. These include new technologies for the investigation of offences (DNA matching, computerisation of fingerprints) and the provision of more frontline police officers. Demographic change is also a factor in differences in overall crime rates.

Services Provided by the Department

Growing Prison Population

As noted above, the Department currently operates in an environment where a range of legislative changes over the last five years have had, or are likely to have, a significant effect on prison volumes, despite the decreasing trends in crime rates reported above. For example, the Bail Act 2000 provided wider grounds for remanding an offender in custody prior to trial and/or sentencing. Similarly, the Sentencing Act 2002 and Parole Act 2002 make it likely that longer prison sentences will be imposed in certain cases and that a larger proportion of the sentences will be served in prison.

While the number of people in prison over the past 20 years has been steadily increasing, the last three years have seen a sharp increase. As noted above, in 2005, New Zealand's rate of imprisonment per 100,000 of population was 172, and by mid 2006, this had risen to 185 per 100,000 of population, more than double the imprisonment rate that applied in 1980. While this rate remains well below the level of imprisonment within the United States (approximately 700 per 100,000), it is now significantly higher than the rate in New Zealand's primary international benchmark jurisdictions such as Canada and Australia.

The 2005 Ministry of Justice prison population forecast indicates that ongoing growth in prisoner numbers is likely, with a continuing increase over the next four and a half years taking the prison population of 7,605 as at 30 June 2006 to 8,685 by June 2010, an increase of over 14 percent.

For much of the past three years the prison population has exceeded forecast levels. Nationally, the increased number of prisoners has at times also exceeded the number of beds available in prisons. Prisoners have been accommodated through the use of the Department's disaster recovery capacity, double bunking in some accommodation and the temporary use of police and court cells.

1 The next survey of crime victims is currently underway and will be published later in 2006.

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