Managing in a changeable environment

Corrections faces a number of challenges and opportunities within the current social and economic environment.

The country’s economy has been recovering slowly from the global financial crisis, but this is likely to be adversely affected by the Canterbury earthquakes. The widespread destruction and disruption brought about by the 22 February 2011 earthquake creates significant challenges for Corrections, both in the short and long-term.

Immediate challenges include offender management—particularly for those serving sentences in the community—as well as assisting staff and restoring facilities.

Over the longer term, Corrections is likely to be impacted by the significant costs borne by the Government in supporting and rebuilding Christchurch at the same time as its tax take is reduced with a loss of output from the Canterbury region. There will be additional pressure on public spending and an increased expectation that all public sector organisations manage spending wisely and contain wage expectations.

The fiscal pressure provides Corrections with an opportunity to introduce innovative approaches to working with offenders to improve public safety and to reduce re-offending within a constrained budget. This could include targeting resources differently to achieve better outcomes, developing new ways of working with other agencies, both within and outside of the justice sector, and implementing new programmes or activities. We need to invest in more of what we know works to reduce re-offending and improve public safety.

In terms of overall volumes, the current justice sector forecast projects a growth in both prisoner and community sentence numbers, although at a slower rate than predicted in previous forecasts. Rates of increase are expected to be further reduced as a result of justice sector initiatives designed to reduce the flow of offenders into the justice system, as well as processing cases more efficiently.

The ethnic makeup of the population managed by Corrections is expected to continue to show significant over-representation of Maori and Pacific offenders. While outcomes for Maori and Pacific peoples have been improving, Maori offenders are likely to continue presenting with greater educational needs and histories of unemployment. Strengthening relationships between ourselves, other government agencies and Maori whanau and communities is a priority, in order to address the long-term drivers of offending. Strengthening the capability of Maori whanau and communities, and engaging them more in the process of offender reintegration, will also reduce re-offending by Maori.

In terms of types of offenders, violent offenders are a growing proportion of the offender population, while other types of offenders remain stable or are decreasing.

The female offender population is expected to increase more rapidly than males, with the number of females being apprehended for violent offending rising at a fast rate.

Despite a bulge in the population of young people who are in the most crime-prone age bracket, the average age of prisoners is continuing to increase as a result of longer periods served, and re-offenders cycling through the system for longer.

Offenders who are gang members are re-offending at higher rates than non-gang affiliated offenders, and will be a particular focus for intervention.

The greatest challenge facing Corrections is the need to drive down rates of re-conviction and re-imprisonment, so as to reduce the numbers of offenders in prison and on community sentences. This can only be achieved by a coordinated approach to offender management, whereby all parts of Corrections, in concert with other government agencies and the wider community, work together to improve outcomes for offenders, and for the New Zealand public.