Prisons almost reaching full capacity and offender rates continue to rise

post by Joe Bloggs

There has been a political dilemma held by the current New Zealand government over whether to build a ‘mega-prison’ that will be able to hold an additional 3000 offenders. New Zealand is already home to 15 male prisons and 3 female prisons that total almost 11,000 inmates and continues to rapidly increase. The debate over whether the build should go ahead has gained strong public opinions, both for and against the potential Waikeria landmark. Prisoner numbers are so close to maximum capacity that those who are remanded and sentenced are having to be held within police cells. And with public perceptions that prisoners are “dangerous” citizens and should be confined to prevent committing crimes (Clear & Schrantz, 2011) an urgent decision needs to be made on the way forward.

With the public divided on whether a new prison should go ahead, some are saying that this is now a safety risk for the general public and a new prison is urgent and unavoidable.

The increasing prison population is driven by both the amount of people that go into prison and the duration of their sentence, so in order to reduce the number of people in prison the government needs to target either the number of those that are going in to prison, the length of time offenders spend in prison, or both of these (Clear & Schrantz, 2011) if they want to avoid a new prison build.

According to Polaschek (2010) effective rehabilitation programs should target risk-related factors and should be created and delivered in a way that will enable effective responses from offenders. There are options available that provide a longer-term solution to reducing the current offender rate that are targeted at rehabilitation of offenders and supports/services that can work with their needs to reduce risk of re-offending.  If the government were to review the legislation to reduce prison numbers, changing bail laws, and parole laws to expand access to early release they may be able to prevent the urgency or necessity for a 1-billion-dollar prison.

Building another prison isn’t a long-term fix for the increasing offender population, it is putting a very expensive band aid on the current situation that isn’t looking at the root causes and potential rehabilitation of offenders. Evidence suggests resources should be put into prevention and early intervention rather than building more prisons, and that if the government were to put funding into other areas of the justice system that have proven to reduce crime and re-offending instead of a new prison, New Zealand may hopefully see a decline in our offender population.

New reports have been made from the government now stating that the ‘mega-prison’ won’t be going ahead,  but no further information has been provided on their intentions to deal with the unmanageable prison population growth. Prisoners are now being double-bunked and forced into shipping containers or emergency beds, creating increased levels of violence and assaults, as well as living in declining inadequate prison conditions. This is now at a crucial point where the government need to address this situation and make a prompt decision for the safety and wellbeing of our prisoners.


Clear, T., & Schrantz, D. (2011). Strategies for Reducing Prison Populations. The Prison Journal, 91(3), 138-159. doi: 10.1177/0032885511415238

McCulloch, C. (2018, 21 May) Waikato mega-prison off the table – Govt. Radio New Zealand. Retrieved from:

New Zealand National Party (2018, 22 February). Govt has its head in sand over prisonpopulation. Scoop Media. Retrieved from:

New Zealand National Party (2018, 8 February). Govt has no real plan to reduce prisonpopulation. Scoop Media. Retrieved from:

Polaschek, D. (2010). High-Intensity Rehabilitation for Violent Offenders in New Zealand: Reconviction Outcomes for High- and Medium-Risk Prisoners. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26(4), 664-682. doi: 10.1177/0886260510365854







Author: socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand

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