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New Zealand: prison population tips over 10,000 again, but still 1500 below forecast

The prison muster has tipped over 10,000 again, but the declining trend has Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis looking to phase out double bunking and retiring “cramped horrible cells”.

The current prison population, considered to be at crisis level a year ago, was at 10,039 last week - 300 higher than at the end of last year, which Corrections put down to the backlog from over the summer break.

But this was still 7 per cent lower than the peak of 10,820 in March last year and 1500 lower than the Ministry of Justice forecast.

A number of initiatives have contributed to the decline, including a focus on supporting prisoners to get bail or parole if they qualify, and reducing the over-representation of Māori through partnerships with iwi.

Instead of risking a public backlash and revisiting bail laws - which has seen the number of remand prisoners double since bail laws were toughened in 2013 - the Government has sought to support prisoners who were struggling to navigate the bail process.

The National Party has questioned whether a rise in the number of bailed and paroled prisoners could impact public safety, but Davis said that judges and the parole board still applied the same criteria when considering safety risks.

“These people would ordinarily get bail, and the people who should be in prison are still in prison,” Davis said.

“It’s just getting the information to the judge in a more timely manner, so it’s silly to say we’re letting more and more unsafe people out. They would be let out anyway, just in a timelier manner.”

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