Special populations

Number and percentage of female prisoners

6.9 % (672)
/ Department of Corrections

Variation in the number of female prisoners

an increase of 11%

The number of female inmates was 585 in September 2015.
The female incarceration rate is 13.3 per 100,000.

Percentage of untried female prisoners

29.5 %

/ Department of Corrections

Women are incarcerated in dedicated penal institutions or units exclusively for women.

There are three women only prisons: Auckland Region Women’s Correctional Facility, Arohata Women’s Prison in Wellington, and Christchurch Women’s Prison.

Auckland Women’s Corrections Facility is the biggest female prison of the country. It was hosting 401 women as of December 2015. Arohata, the smallest one, was hosting 89 prisoners during that same period.

The Corrections Department announced, in June 2016, a construction plan that will double de operating capacity of the female Arohata Prison and will add a new high-security building.

Untried female prisoners are separated from the convicted


The officer conducting the search must be of the same sex as the prisoner and must be accompanied of an officer of the same sex.

Upon arrival, each female prisoner receives sanitary supplies.

Conjugal visits are allowed for women

no conjugal visit mentioned in the law

Mothers are allowed to keep their children with them


Children aged nine months to two years can stay with their mothers while they serve their sentences. The maximum age may vary depending on the facility.

The Corrections (Mothers and Babies) Amendment Act 2008 created “Self Care Units” and “Feeding and Bonding Facilities”. The first are independent units that replicate a domestic space with a kitchenette and a sleeping room for the baby. The second are destined to mothers whose children are being cared by the community. Children can bond with their mothers for up to 12 hours a day in a space that replicates the lounge room of a regular house.

The law bans the imprisonment of minors


Minimum age of imprisonment for minors

10 years old

The age of criminal responsibility is set at 10 years old. At 17 years old, individuals who are charged with a criminal offence will appear in the District Court or High Court, not the young Court.

Juveniles 10 to 13 can be imprisoned for murder or manslaughter; those 14 to 16 for murder, manslaughter and jury trial offences.

Incarcerated minors

3.7 %

(under 20 years old)

/ Department of Corrections

Ministry in charge of incarcerated minors

  • Ministry of Justice
  • Ministry of Social Development

The Children Young Persons and Their Families Act regulates the two offending processes in the juvenile justice system: the child offending process (from 10 to 13 years) and the youth justice process (from 14 to 16 years old).

Law provides sanctions such as educational placement. It also provides imprisonment but only as a last resort and only for the shortest appropriate period of time: 28% of offences committed by a minor end up in the Youth Court.

The types of correctional facilities that hold minors are four Youth Justice Residences, managed by the Ministry of Social Development and special youth units for children aged 17 years old.

In the Youth Justice Residence, boys and girls are intentionally mixed together in order to benefit their behaviour modification programs and activities.

Figures on minors in prison are published

on an regular basis

Minors in prison are separated from adults

in some establishments

Children aged 17 years old are considered adults and therefore are placed in regular prisons However, they are separated from the general prison population in special youth units until they reach 21 years old.

On the other hand, the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) states in its 2014 report that detained girls are not separated from adults.

The schooling of minors is compulsory


Full time education is mandatory for minors aged 16 years old and younger. Young persons 16 to 19 years old may enroll voluntarily.

1.9 % (189)

Life sentences are banned


Life imprisonment is mandatory for treason. Terrorism, manslaughter, murder and Class A drug dealing can be subject to a life imprisonment sentence.

813 people have been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder since 1980. Only six people have been sentenced to life imprisonment for other offences during that same period (one for manslaughter and five for drug offences).

Offenders must serve a minimum of ten years before they can be eligible for parole. Judges can dictate a longer period or no possibility of parole at all. If the offender is released, he is on parole for the rest of his life.

27.2 %


Variation in the number of untried prisoners


The Bail Amendment Act 2013 has been forcing more offenders to remain in remand custody. Pre-trial detention rates have gone from 21.6% in 2010 to 27.2% in 2016.

Untried prisoners are separated from the convicted


There is a strict separation of pre-trial and sentenced detainees.

The law provides for release on bail for untried prisoners


There is no maximum time for pre-trial detention in the youth justice system. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention pointed a “growing trend” of juvenile offenders being held in police stations for long periods of time instead of being placed in Youth Justice Residences.

Lengthy periods of time in remand may prevent prisoners from obtaining an early release from prison.

Minority or indigenous backgrounds are criteria for specific cell or unit assignment


There are five Māori Focus Units in New Zealand. These prison blocks, created in the early 2000s, address issues that are specific to the Māori minority.

Mãori assigned in a Māori Focus Unit can approach their identity from a positive perspective, learn basic skills and prepare a life structure before their release (accommodation and whānau, family or community support). There are currently a few inmates in each prison with a Māori Focus Unit that can benefit from this program[^2].

[^2]:“Why are there so many Maori in New Zealand’s prisons?“ in Al Jazeera, June 2nd 2016.

The UN Committee against Torture and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concerns over the disproportionally high number of Māori imprisoned. They represent half of the entire prison population even though they make up 15% of the country’s general population. Māori women represent two thirds of the female prison population.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention showed concern over the “persistent bias against Maori at all levels of the criminal justice system”. The SPT was worried about the “increasing delays within the Court system” and the fact that pre-trial detention is “not used only as a measure of last resort and is often unduly prolonged.1

Scholars point to multiple factors to explain the phenomenon of the Māori minority mass incarceration, such as socio-economic disadvantage dating back to colonial times, and systematic bias influencing court decisions. Professor Warren Brookbanks stated that this disproportionality is the Three Strikes’ most ‘disturbing feature’ and echoed previous critiques that when we compare strikers to the general population we see a ‘dramatic ethnic overrepresentation of both Māori and Pasifika, akin to that of African-Americans under California’s three strikes law.

  1. UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture, CAT/OP/NZL/1, p. 8. 

The prosecution or imprisonment of a person on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity is banned


The Homosexual Law Reform Act 1988 decriminalised consensual sex between men over 16. Sex between women was never criminalised. The Human Rights Act 1993 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (and implicitly) gender identity.

LGBTQI+ persons are separated from other prisoners

in some cases

The Department of Corrections deals with cases of transgender women being assigned to male prisons by placing them in solitary confinement for long periods of time1. This can take a serious toll on the inmates’ mental heath.

Sociologist Ti Lamusse said: “I personally worked with a number of transgender prisoners who told me it was quite common to be put in 23-hour lockdown for safety. There are many resources that illustrate that when you are deprived of human contact for extended periods of time, you’re much more likely to become unwell and to commit suicide.2

  1. Equal Justice Project, “Transgender Prisoners’ Rights Ignored” 

  2. Cash injection to save prisoners’ lives” in Stuff, Nov 2nd 2016 

Assignment of transgender prisoners to a specific facility depends on

  • their ID gender
  • their biological sex

The 2014 Transgender and Intersex Prisoner policy introduced the possibility for transgender women to demand a transfer to a female prison.

According to the Prisons Operation Manual, if the staff are not sure of the prisoner’s sex, the custodial system must decide if the person is placed in a male or female prison. If a birth certificate specifies the prisoner’s sex, the decision will depend on the gender specified on the birth certificate. It is possible to demand a review of the initial decision to the Corrections’ chief executive.

According to rule M.03.05.02, the only reason why a person would be ineligible to a reassignment would be if the prisoner has being convicted for a serious sexual offence against a person of his/her nominated sex.

There are still cases in which transgender women are assigned to male prisons even though their security is at risk.

Conjugal visits are allowed for LGBTQI+ prisoners

no conjugal visit mentioned in the law

The abolitionist group No Pride in Prisons defends the LGBTI community’s rights in prison.

The prison service keeps a record of elderly prisoners


Elderly prisoners

5 %

/ Department of Corrections

Death penalty is abolished

yes, since 1989

The death penalty was abolished in 1961 for murder but retained for treason. It was abolished altogether, for civilian and military offences in 1989. The last execution was carried out in 1957.