20 Sep 2017

Fact or Fiction: How correct are corrections claims?

From Election17 - Fact or Fiction, 3:05 pm on 20 September 2017

Away from arguments over tax, Labour, National and TOP (The Opportunities Party) have been debating over corrections and justice policy. Fact or Fiction takes a closer look.

"The justice sector forecast for 2015-2025 said that the prison population was likely to increase to 10,090 by 2025… Well that actually happened in less than one year after the report was released."

- Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis, on The Nation's corrections debate

Kelvin Davis was referring to the Ministry of Justice’s Justice Sector Forecast, released in December 2015, which did forecast a rise in the prison population from 9150 in 2015 to 10,090 by 2025.

It is also true that the prison population grew far faster than anticipated by the ministry. As of June 2017, the prison population is at 10,260 - higher than it was predicted to be in 2025. However, in December 2016, which was one year after the report was released - Mr Davis’s reference point - the prison population was 9914.

This is slightly less than the 10,090 by December 2016 that Mr Davis claimed, yet it is still a considerable increase compared to the predicted rate of increase.

Verdict: Fact (or very close)

"71 percent [of prisoners] are serious violence, sexual or serious drug offences charges."

- National Party corrections spokesperson Louise Upston

Corrections figures show 38 percent of prisoners were jailed for violent offences, 20 percent for sexual offences, and 13 percent for drugs and anti-social behaviour - a total of 71 percent.

The definition of the latter category includes drug use and possession, disorder and vagrancy - unlikely to be considered "serious offenders" - so Ms Upston's 71 percent figure may capture some of those less serious charges.

Verdict: Mostly fact

A watchtower at Paremoremo Prison

Paremoremo Prison, Auckland Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

"You went up 40 percent in your time, we have gone up 30 percent in ours; I accept it’s a challenge."

- Louise Upston, referring to prisoner numbers under the previous two governments

The prison population in 1999, when Helen Clark's Labour Government was first elected, was 5647. By 2008, when National took government, the prison population had risen to 7763 - a 37 percent increase.

The prison population at June 2017 was 10,260, so a 32 percent increase under National.

Verdict: Fact (using rounded figures)

“The prison population has been rising under Labour and National… We’ll be at twice the OECD average by 2027, according to our projections.”

- The Opportunities Party co-deputy leader Geoff Simmons (in a video on the party's Facebook page)

The prison population in New Zealand actually dipped slightly between 2011 and 2013.

Increases since 2013 can largely be attributed to changes in the Bail Act & Sentencing Act. The Bail Act placed tougher conditions on those seeking bail, while also limiting which offences would qualify for bail.

Changes to the Sentencing Act were introduced to ensure all victims were offered restorative justice prior to their sentencing.  

These changes have meant an overall higher proportion of prisoners are remanded in custody (kept in prison while their case is going through the courts) at any given time, as an overall percentage of the total prisoner population.

At the top end of projections, the Ministry of Justice has forecast that prison numbers will likely increase by about 19 percent by the 2025/26 year.

Inside Paremoremo Prison

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

New Zealand’s total number of incarcerated persons are the seventh highest per capita in the OECD at a rate of 210 prisoners per 100,000 people, while the OECD average hovers around 140 per 100,000 people.

Using the ministry's projections, the imprisonment rate would rise to 232 per 100,000 (accounting for a general population increase) by 2025/26 - about 66 percent higher than the current OECD average but not double. The ministry has not published its projections for the 2027 year.

Verdict: Fiction (but the reality still isn't great)

“Each prisoner we lock up costs $100,000 per year”

- Geoff Simmons

Corrections' annual report says a sentenced prisoner costs the department $307.53 per day. The same report puts the cost of a remand prisoner at $239.17 per day.

The main reason for this difference is because sentenced prisoners generally have longer unlock hours, more case management and a series of mandated programmes such to attend.

The same report gives an average population of 6816 sentence prisoners and 2377 remand prisoners.

The weighted average cost  therefore works out at $105,809 per prisoner, per year.

Verdict: Fact

Fact or Fiction is a joint initiative between RNZ and the University of Auckland's Public Policy Institute