Environment, Issues and Implications

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 impact on the justice sector as a whole.

Demographic information is based on census data from Statistics New Zealand, New Zealand Police crime statistics reports, the Ministry of Justice conviction and sentencing report for 2004, the Ministry of Justice November 2005 prison population forecast and the Department of Corrections November 2003 census of prisoners and home detainees.

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 30 September 2005. It is expected to reach 4.5 million by 2021, with highest rates of growth among Asian, Maori 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 Maori 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 signifi cant 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 2004/05, New Zealand's rate of imprisonment per 100,000 of population was 164, while Australia's was 119. Around 8,000 prisoners are released from prison each year; over half of these are likely to be reconvicted within two years.

One initiative underway is the Effective Interventions working party that will report to Government with proposals in mid-2006.

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 key driver of the extended sentences 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 signalled that it will be looking at a number of alternatives to prison as a sentence, including non-custodial options, 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 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.

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 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 recorded by the Police for 2004/05, was 7.1 percent lower than the previous 12 months and was 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. While no further increase has occurred recently, the numbers of these types of offences are currently being maintained at relatively high levels.

Police crime resolution rates have also steadily increased in recent years. The Police crime statistics for 2004 show stable rates of recorded violent and sexual offences, but a significant increase in the resolution rate for such offences (up to 44.2% from 32.9% in 1992/93). In turn, prosecutions for offences have increased. In addition, 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 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 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 24 to 30 months have seen a sharp increase. As noted above, in 2004/05, New Zealand's rate of imprisonment per 100,000 of population was 164, and by early 2006, this had risen to 181 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 years, taking the prison population of 7,450 in January 2006 to an estimated 8,685 by June 2010, an increase of over 16 percent.

For much of the past two years the prison population has exceeded forecast levels. Nationally, the increased number of prisoners has 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.

Community-based Sentences

While the number of offenders in prison has increased, the number serving community-based sentences (supervision, community work, parole, home detention, and release on conditions) has remained relatively stable, at approximately 40,000 new offenders starting community-based sentences per year. Volumes are expected to rise as initiatives to reduce prisoner numbers take effect.


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