5 Sep 2018

New bail phone app helps decrease prison population

8:02 pm on 5 September 2018

There are very few things that cannot be done using a smartphone app and now the technology has extended to trying to keep electronically monitored people on bail on the straight and narrow.

Unavailable: What if there was no Facebook?

Unavailable: What if there was no Facebook? Photo: Image: The Wireless/Luke McPake

A cross-sector group set up by the government in January has launched several pilots around bail, remand and parole designed to reduce reoffending and help with rehabilitation - the latest is an app to make it easier to comply with bail conditions.

The government is touting it as one of many new initiatives doing their bit to reduce the prison population but the opposition is not so convinced.

The bail phone app is designed to work on any smartphone.

It provides defendants with direct access to support services, makes it easier to request information and saves them time sitting on hold on the phone or in a court queue.

High Impact Innovation Programme head Leigh Marsh said the prison muster has dropped by 650 since March and their pilots are a key contributor to that.

"The prison population peaked in March at around 10,830-odd and it was just towards the end of March/early April that we started to bear fruit with the programme as we've seen a steady decline in the prison population."

The app was launched two weeks ago.

"The purpose of the app is to promote compliance with bail, make it easier to access the systems so they don't have to sit in court queues getting grumpy and hang up and then run away without any vetting or control."

National Party corrections' spokesman David Bennett said initiatives like the bail app had a role but he warns it's going to take a lot more to put a dent in ballooning prison numbers.

"We would expect there would be a continued increase of prison numbers next year. Apps like that will be effective in some way but the rising prison population is a tide that is coming to the minister's door,'' Mr Bennett said.

Labour MP Kelvin Davis

Labour MP Kelvin Davis Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis disagreed and said the programme was already achieving results - proven by the decrease in the prison population.

"I've had a look at the app - I think it's fantastic.

"It cuts out a lot of sort of old time nonsense having to make phone calls and that. So I think it's been really effective and it's just part of a number of tools we'll be using to safely reduce the prison population."

Mr Marsh said his staff would work closely with the new Criminal Justice Advisory Group, chaired by the former National MP Chester Borrows.

He said their pilots were the first step in what would ultimately be the advisory group's longer term reforms.