Date of the report

The penitentiary system

There were 18 prisons in operation as of 2016. 15 for male offenders and three for female offenders. There are ten male prisons in the North Island and five in the South Island. Additionally, there are four youth correctional facilities, referred to as Youth Justice Residences. According to World Prison Brief, the official capacity of the prison system was 9,393 beds as of June 2015.

Prisons are usually divided by security level (maximum, high, low medium, low, minimum). A security classification is given to prisoners within 14 days of sentencing and considers the risk posed by the offender. Security classification is used to decide what unit a prisoner should be in.

Sixteen prisons are administered by the Department of Corrections and two are either being built or operated under a public-private partnership (PPP) by Serco and the consortium Secure Future.

The PPPs started in 2000, when the Department of Corrections assigned a five-year contract to the Australasian Correctional Management to open and operate the Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP). The prison was operated by Corrections from 2005 to 2011. A project to rebuilt and renamed ACRP started in 2008. In 2010, ACRP became Mount Eden Corrections Facility (MECF). The contract to manage the prison was awarded to the British security company Serco.

The contract was revoked in July 2015 after the online release of videos that proved the existence of ‘fight clubs’ inside the prison. The Department of Corrections took over the management of the facility and Serco was ordered to pay $8 million to the government as compensation for its poor management of Mount Eden.

However, the government maintains another 25-year PPP with Serco and the Secure Future consortium in the new Auckland South Correctional Facility (ASCF) in Wiri1. The prison opened in May 2015 and has a 960-bed capacity. The Fletcher Construction Company Limited is the main sub-contractor for construction and Serco New Zealand Limited is the main sub-contractor for the operation of the facility. Spotless Facility Services Limited are subcontracted by Serco New Zealand Limited for the provision of facilities management and asset management. According to the Department of Corrections, the contract "sets clear financial incentives to drive a reduction in re-offending. Incentive payments will only be attained if prisoners released from the facility re-offend 10% less than those from the public prison network. Rehabilitative techniques developed at Auckland South Corrections Facility will become the intellectual property of Corrections and can be put in place at other sites."2.

The Department of Corrections announced a plan to increase the prison capacity by 1,800 beds. The total budget was estimated at $1 billion3. 1,500 beds will be added to the Waikera Prison in the Waikato. The construction and operation of the new facilities will follow the PPP model of the ASCF. A new 245-bed block will be constructed in Mount Eden and 80 double bunking beds will be added to the Northland Corrections Facility in Ngawha4.


  1. "ACC defends investing with Serco" in Radio NZ, July 12th 2016 

  2. Department of Corrections, Annual report 2014/2015 

  3. "NZ's prison population booming" in Radio NZ, April 14th 2016 

  4. National Party, "Government approves plans for increased prison capacity", Oct 18th 2016 

The prison system is managed by the Department of Corrections (in Māori Ara Poutama Aotearoa) and is attached to the Ministry of Justice. The current Minister of Corrections and Police is Judith Collins. The Chief Executive of Corrections is Ray Smith.

The Department of Corrections employs around 8,000 staff members that work either inside prisons or in one the 151 Community Corrections.

Corrections officers are in charge of the secure containment of prisoners. They are the members of the staff that spend more time with inmates. They must follow a 12-month training program after recruitment. Their salary goes from $51,904 to $60,957 a year.

Programme facilitators are responsible for therapeutic programs that aim to help offenders take responsibility for their actions and change their behaviour. They must have a degree in psychology, social work or counselling and complete an 11 week training program.

Other staff members include instructors (who provide professional training), case managers (to follow the prisoner’s case), psychologists (to provide risk assessments and treatment), nurses, detector dog handlers, and service managers.

The Corrections Association of New Zealand (CANZ) is the only prison specific union. They have a partnership with the Prison Officers Association of Australasia (POAA). CANZ openly opposes prison privatization policies1.

A report published by Just Speak in 2014 estimated the amount of money that the State was paying Serco per prisoner per annum at $31,000– a third of the cost in a state-run facility. However, it highlighted the results of scientific studies that showed that these savings "came at the expense of services delivered, staff safety and prison management accountability to communities and taxpayers". The report added that "[i]nternational evidence shows that inmates in private prisons are subjected to degrading and unsafe prison conditions, the increased misuse of force, and are not provided with inadequate healthcare, education and work programme"2.

Bill English –New Zealand’s Prime Minister since December 2016– declared in 2011 –when he was Ministry of Finances– that prisons were ‘a moral and fiscal failure’. He said he hoped that the Auckland South Correctional Facility would be the last prison construction project because ‘they’re very very expensive’. According to the now Prime Minister, "they cost $250,000 a bed in capital costs, and $90,000 per prisoner to run and ‘when we’re tight for money, it would be good if we could have ... less young people coming into the ... pipeline where they start with a minor offence and end up with a 10-year sentence’"3.

In spite of this, the Department of Corrections announced, in October 2016, the construction of 1,800 new prison beds that will cost $1 billion. The 2016/17 annual budget showed an 8.9% increase from the initial estimated expenditure in 2015/16.

In a report published in December 2016, the Salvation Army noted that the Corrections department was facing the paradox of “been tasked by the Government with reducing reoffending by 25 per cent by 2017” yet having a prison system under increasing pressure "with all-time high numbers of inmates, which [puts] pressure on capacity and budgets"1. In the 2015/16 annual report, the Department of Corrections reported a stalling on the reoffending figures for a second year in a row, adding that "it was unlikely that the target of 25% reduction in the rate of reoffending will be achieved by 2017"4.


  1. Corrections Association of New Zealand, About Us, 2013 

  2. Just Speak, "Unlocking Prisons", 2014, p.52 

  3. The Salvation Army, "Beyond the Prison Gate", December 2016, chap. 1 p. 17 

  4. The Salvation Army, op. cit., chap. 2 p. 22