Davis claims that prisoner numbers have reduced by 600

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has claimed that prisoner numbers have reduced by 600 in an interview yesterday on Newshub Nation. If this is true that would be a remarkable turnaround on recent forecasts.

Recently published projections, which show a prison population of 10,308 for 2017.

RNZ (2 July 2018): Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis changes inmate forecast comments

Mr Davis said since January, growth in the prison population was tracking below the forecast for the first time “in a very long time”. There were now 10,500 people in prison, a fall of 300 since March.

Mr Davis has previously said the government aimed to reduce the prison population by 30 percent over 15 years, to around 7000.

That suggests that prisoner numbers peaked at 10,800 in March, and had decreased by 300 by July.

On Wednesday (22 August) RadioLive reports in ‘This is personal for me’: Kelvin Davis on Maori prison stats

There are 10,235 prisoners in our jails, down from 10,800 in March.

That’s 565 down on the Match peak.

Davis on the Nation yesterday:

The facts are that the prison forecast had us at about 11,500 by the end of the year. We’re now at 10,200. Since March, the prison population has reduced from 10,800. So, there’s work that we’re doing just to streamline processes within the system that are actually having a positive effect on the prison population.

Well, we’ve reduced the prison population by 600 in six months…

Well, what I’m saying is that Corrections is doing a fantastic job. It has done a fantastic job already. We’ve only been in government less than a year, and we’ve managed to defy the projections, and we’re a thousand below where they— where we’re told that they would be.

Corrections have put on their thinking caps. We’ve already got the High Impact Innovation Programme that is having a significant benefit. It’s reducing the prison numbers…

We’re actually defying the odds. We’re defying the forecast. We’re defying the projections, and the prison population is actually reducing, and we’re doing it safely.

If accurate, this is a remarkable turnaround.

Andrew Little on Q&A last weekend (19 August 2018):

We’ve had this massive increase of the number of people in our prisons, we’ve got more people serving longer prison sentences, our average prison sentence has increased by something like twenty percent over the last few years.

Sixty percent of those in prison will reoffend within two years of release…

Nearly 40% of those in prison have a mental health problem like depression or anxiety.
Nearly 50% have an addiction problem.

Little’s focus is on helping and treating people while in prison so they are less likely to offend after they are released. That has been asked for for years.

We’ve been putting more and more people into prison and for longer…

It’s not right that we’ve had this thirty percent increase in our prison population in just the last five years, that’s not right, that tells you there’s something wrong. It’s not right that we’ve doubled those remanded in custody just in the last five years.

He means that’s not good, not that it isn’t correct.

But it seems odd that in an interview focussing on dire imprisonment statistics and the need for better treatment of problems and better rehabilitation, there was no mention of prisoner numbers being reduced.

So what about Davis’ claim? From the Department of Corrections prisoner population as at 31 March 2018 (the latest published information):

  • Remand prisoners 3,316
  • Sentenced prisoners 7,329

That’s less than the 10,800 that Davis claimed, and he has given variations on the latest numbers so the exact numbers are unclear.

However if they have reduced over the last five months that is good progress. It would be good to have this clarified.

How is this being achieved? Davis referred to the oddly named High Impact Innovation Programme. From Corrections ‘Our Priorities’:

  • The High Impact Innovation Programme will enhance opportunities for offenders to access electronic bail and home detention options.

Home Detention is a sentence so that is decided by courts (judges). Have they been encouraged to choose Home Detention more? Electronic Bail also sounds like a court decision.

The above numbers show that there are a huge number remand prisoners (as at 31 March), and according to Little that has doubled in the last five years, so is an obvious target in trying to reduce prisoner numbers. Little also said that most imprisoned on remand don’t get prison sentences.

A risk is that, probably inevitably, a person on bail will commit a high profile crime and that will have (some of) the public and some lobby groups and some politicians baying for more imprisonment.

So there are tricky challenges for Little.

As for the reduced prisoner numbers claimed by Davis, which range from 600 (a number he quoted) to 410 (another number he quoted plus an official Corrections number.

However any reduction is good, especially given the forecast increases – until someone on bail or on early release probation does something horrific. It is a difficult balancing act – the need to balance risks.

Leave a comment


  1. chrism56

     /  26th August 2018

    Maybe Kelvin is doing the old politician’s trick of comparing historic projections against actual, especially if projection was just a maximum at year’s end.

  2. Ray

     /  26th August 2018

    Just maybe Kelvin isn’t that hot in basic mathematics, he proved that with his percentage of Ngapuhi in prison (25% rather than the claimed 50%).

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  26th August 2018

      I did wonder about the 50%.

      People use ‘half’ loosely and it’s not meant to be taken seriously, but 50% can’t be taken that way.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  26th August 2018

      I see where he’s gone wrong.

      BUT as a Minister, he should have been more careful and read the stats properly. He’s made an inexcusably careless mistake.

  3. NOEL

     /  26th August 2018

    “Also many who have an affiliation but clearly aren’t expressing it.”
    Plenty of Maori not in prison who dont declare any tribal affilation so why should those in prison be different.

    Kettle Pot research

  4. Gezza

     /  26th August 2018

    More on the High Impact Innovation Programme
    … …..
    “Outside of increasing capacity in our prisons, we have initiated the High Impact Innovation Programme which is focused on moving people through the criminal justice pipeline faster. This is expected to reduce growth in demand for remand prison beds, by reducing the average length of time defendants are held in prison on remand. To date, we have successfully demonstrated that improving operational efficiency in the justice sector is an effective way of reducing demand for beds.

    It should be noted, however, that this programme alone is unlikely to resolve the capacity-related challenges currently faced by Corrections.”
    More …
    … … … …

    “The Government has set a specific target to reduce the prison population by 30 percent over the next 15 years. Corrections is already progressing this target with the establishment of the High Impact Innovation Programme. Since its commencement (as the Targeted Option to Reduce the Prison Population programme), we have achieved a reduction in the growth of the prison population of 153 beds*. We expect to make additional progress towards the Government’s goal of reducing the prison population through broader reforms of the wider criminal justice system.
    *as at 5 June 2018
    More …

  5. High Flying Duck

     /  26th August 2018

    “It is hard to go to prison in New Zealand. It took me several attempts but I was finally successful and enjoyed a delightful time touring our penal archipelago in my twenties. Sadly, despite this hands-on insight into the criminal mind, I was not invited to the Justice Summit held in Porirua.

    From the media reports over-representation of Māori in custody was a major focus. There are many reasons given for this. Colonialism. Racism. Poverty. The lack of free-to-air Rugby.

    A wise person will look beyond race and seek a better explanation. Thankfully we have the dedicated researcher Lindsay Mitchell who has done just that. In a report for Family First published earlier this year she pulls no punches: “A sharp increase in unmarried births during the 1960s correlates markedly with a later rise in the imprisonment rate. Ex-nuptial births made up 79 percent of total Māori births in 2017. For non-Māori, the corresponding figure was 34 percent.””


  1. Davis claims that prisoner numbers have reduced by 600 — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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