Prisoner numbers reducing & 3000 offenders a year sentenced to home detention

A lot is being said about the escalating prison population over the last decade – but it could have been far worse if home detention hadn’t been introduced in 2007. There are now about 3,000 people a year being sentenced to home detention.

although the numbers have eased back since early this year due to new measures that have been successful particularly in getting people on bail more, and getting them off remand faster (by getting them to trial faster).

David Fisher at The Great Escape – prison crisis eases after Corrections thinks outside the cell

The stressed prison network has had a Great Escape – a string of innovations allowing inmates and those charged with crimes better access to justice services has seen a huge fall in inmate numbers.

Our prisons now have 1000 fewer inmates than official projections and the prison population – around 10,200 – has fallen by 600 people in the past six months.

The changes haven’t involved keeping out of prison any people who should have been locked up.

Instead, it has seen “embarrassingly simple” wrinkles ironed out of the system which appear to have improved people’s access to justice.

A number of smaller projects had been underway for about 18 months but Corrections minister Kelvin Davis signed off on a permanent programme in January 2018.

So projects started under the previous covernment and continued under the current government.

The programme of change has been led by Corrections deputy national commissioner Leigh Marsh.

Marsh said innovations included trying to understand why so many on electronic bail were “failing and clogging up the system”.

When the process was studied, it was found those arrested with literacy issues were being handed complex forms to fill in that they couldn’t understand.

About 70 per cent of those currently in prison have literacy level considered insufficient for modern life.

Others couldn’t supply phone numbers so addresses could be checked as suitable bail addresses because the number was saved on the phone which was removed after they were arrested.

When prisoners were asked how they intended getting the phone numbers to arrange bail, they had reportedly planned writing letters to family.

There were now advisers who were available to talk to those who were freshly remanded to better understand why they had been refused bail – and to help obtain details such as phone numbers.

Corrections was also trialling in Wellington a service aimed at assisting those applying for bail. The bail service would help those charged arrange appropriate bail addresses, and to connect with programmes needed to address offending, such as services to deal with alcohol and drug abuse.

Once in the community, there were others who worked to help those on bail understand their conditions and to connect with support which might be needed.

Other innovations included helping those appearing for sentence find a suitable address for home detention, getting police evidence to those accused to enable faster pleas and ensuring those appearing for parole had taken necessary courses.

He said the biggest difference had been in the remand population. The number of people sent to prison to await trial ballooned after a new 2013 law which made it harder to get bail.

Marsh said the prison population had peaked in around 10,800 in March and had since trended down to around 10,200 now. It was currently around 1000 fewer inmates than Ministry of Justice predictions.

Successful changes.

And prisoner numbers have also been kept lower than they otherwise would have been by using home detention.

Judge Stephen O’Driscoll – Home Detention provides real alternative to prison

Since 2007 the District Court has been able to impose a sentence of home detention. Now about 3000 offenders a year are being sentenced to home detention.

In the sentencing hierarchy home detention sits above community-based sentences but below imprisonment. Home detention is, therefore, a real alternative to imprisonment.

Home detention means an offender has to serve their sentence at a specific residence instead of in prison.

The sentence must be for more than 14 days but no more than 12 months.  It can be imposed as a sentence in its own right or combined with other sentences such as community work.

Home detention should not be seen as a “soft option”.  It is in effect a curfew at an agreed address, and it is monitored electronically.

The offender must not leave the address at any time, except to seek urgent medical or dental treatment, or to avoid or minimise a serious risk of death or injury.

An offender may get approval to leave the address to seek or do paid work, or to attend training or other rehabilitative activities or programmes, or for any other purpose specifically approved by a probation officer.

A special condition that judges often impose with home detention is judicial monitoring.  This means the judge will receive regular progress reports from the probation officer. In 2017, judges monitored 275 cases in this way.

The court cannot impose home detention if the offender does not agree to it or the conditions. Interestingly, a number of offenders do not consent and the court is left with little option but to impose imprisonment.

Someone on home detention will usually wear an electronic anklet that continually emits a signal and triggers an alarm if the offender leaves the designated address without permission. Should that happen, a monitoring centre will send a security officer to investigate and report to the supervising probation officer who would then take any appropriate action.

The anklet is waterproof and is designed to be worn 24 hours a day.  Offenders can also be monitored while at work or while attending rehabilitative programmes.

The court cannot impose home detention if the place the offender proposes to live is not in an area where the Department of Corrections runs a home detention scheme or where an ankle bracelet’s GPS signal cannot be picked up.

Before imposing the sentence, a court must consider a report from a probation officer, which among other things, will advise whether the proposed residence is suitable.

Anyone else living there is required to understand the conditions of the sentence, and will need to consent to the offender serving the sentence there, in keeping with the conditions.  The occupants may withdraw their consent at any time.

Home detention has several advantages.  It can allow defendants to continue in paid work, remain in their accommodation and maintain family relationships.

It is also less costly to supervise than jail and has high compliance rates.

Most offenders know that should they breach the sentence or re-offend while on home detention, then they are highly likely to be sent to jail.

If a judge decides on a sentence of more than 2 years imprisonment they can consider home detention as an alternative. Corrections:

Home detention is an alternative to imprisonment and is intended for offenders who otherwise would have received a short prison sentence (of two years or less) for their offending.

Only sentencing judges can impose home detention. They must take into consideration advice provided by a probation officer who has assessed the offender, and the home address and any people who live there.

Offenders who receive a home detention sentence are subject to standard and special conditions.

Electronic monitoring equipment is installed at the offender’s address and their compliance monitored for the length of the sentence.

People who are on home detention may also be required to:

  • pay a fine
  • pay reparation to their victim/s
  • do community work.

Offenders must apply to their probation officer if they need to be absent from their home detention address. Their probation officer will decide whether to approve the request.

A probation officer may approve an offender’s absence from their detention address so they can go to: work, study, rehabilitation programmes, the doctor, and appointments with other agencies. All absences from the address are monitored by alternative means – such as verification from the offender’s sponsor or checking on appointments.

It seems to be generally working successfully in keeping people out of prison.

Leave a comment


  1. Kitty Catkin

     /  8th September 2018

    Why don’t they give the prisoners the phones back long enough to get the numbers ? Who remembers every phone number they use, especially mobiles ?

    This makes no sense.

  2. Trevors_elbow

     /  9th September 2018

    Social investment policy in action paying out with results… well done Bill English and friends…..

    • Blazer

       /  9th September 2018

      Sir Billy has nothing to do with it.

      • Trevors_elbow

         /  9th September 2018

        Thanks for normal bitter comment.
        .. you’re YNZs jester to The Lord of North Wellingtons court and you fill the role superbly

        • Gezza

           /  9th September 2018

          Come off the grass Trev. Not the bloody Jester at Pookden Manor.
          Might do more than his fair whack of jesting, but not here.
          🐧 Sir Gerald 🐧

  3. Gezza

     /  9th September 2018

    Sensible stuff started under National & capitalised on by Labour. Nice.

  4. Blazer

     /  9th September 2018

    not how I see it…from the OP….’far worse if home detention hadn’t been introduced in 2007.’
    I think you’ll find Labour was in Govt in 2007..

    .so-‘So projects started under the previous covernment and continued under the current government.’-no credit for Nationals lock em up and throw away the…key.

    • Home detention was continued under the national Government and expanded substantially.

      And the current reduction in prisoner numbers started under the National government and have continued under the labour led government.

      Many things started under one government are continued and improved under subsequent governments.

      • Blazer

         /  9th September 2018

        the initiator usuallygets the credit…you have reversed the..order.

        • High Flying Duck

           /  9th September 2018

          You’re fixating on home detention. The previous government initiated programs to streamline sentencing, parole and administration. The changes made have resulted in a do in prisoner numbers.

  1. Prisoner numbers reducing & 3000 offenders a year sentenced to home detention — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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