Society

New Zealand's prison population

The characteristics of people in New Zealand's prisons.
  • Image, from inside closed jail cell.

    In 2012, the Department of Corrections managed and operated 19 prisons within four regions of New Zealand.

    Where are our prisons?

    Table 1 lists the prisons and their capacities. In 2012, there was capacity for 10,160 prisoners in New Zealand.

    Table 1

    Prisons in New Zealand Capacity
    Male prisons
    Spring Hill Corrections Facility 1,050
    Waikeria 1,031
    Rimutaka 1,002
    Mt Eden Corrections Facility 966
    Christchurch Men's 926
    Hawke's Bay 698
    Auckland 681
    Tongariro/Rangipo 600
    Northland Corrections Facility 548
    Whanganui 529
    Otago Corrections Facility 485
    Rolleston 320
    Manawatu 290
    Invercargill 172
    New Plymouth(1) 112
    Female prisons
    Auckland Women's Corrections Facility 462
    Arohata 154
    Christchurch Women's Corrections Facility 134
    Total 10,160
    1. New Plymouth prison closed in April 2013

    In December 2012, Wellington Prison closed, and in April 2013, New Plymouth Prison closed. The government agreed to plans for a new men’s prison, situated at Wiri in Manukau, Auckland, in September 2012. When construction is completed, this facility will hold around 960 prisoners.

    Who’s in our prisons?

    New Zealand’s prison population has been rising over time. At 30 June 2012, there were 8,618 prisoners (8,091 males and 527 females). Of this population, 6,764 were prisoners serving a sentence, and 1,854 were remanded in custody.

    A decade earlier, at 30 June 2002, there were 6,048 prisoners (5,773 males and 275 females); 4,983 were serving a sentence, and 1,065 were remanded in custody.

    Ethnicity

    Table 2 shows that at 30 June 2012, Māori made up 51 percent (4,391) of the total prison population. European prisoners made up 33 percent (2,835), and Pacific peoples accounted for 12 percent (1,006) of the total.

    The ethnic proportions differ between the sexes. In 2012, 58 percent of female prisoners were Māori, while 51 percent of males identified as Māori. In contrast, 12 percent of all male prisoners were Pacific peoples, while just 5 percent of women in prison were this ethnicity. The percentages for prisoners of identifying as European were very similar (31 percent of females and 33 percent of males).

    Table 2

    Ethnicity of prisoners
    By sex
    Ethnicity Female Male Total
    Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
    Māori 304 58 4,087 51 4,391 51
    European 163 31 2,672 33 2,835 33
    Pacific peoples 24 5 982 12 1,006 12
    Asian 17 3 218 3 235 3
    Other/unknown 19 4 132 2 151 2
    Total 527 100 8,091 100 8,618 100

    Age

    Table 3 shows 41 percent of prisoners were aged under 30 years as at 30 June 2012. However, by age group, the highest proportion of prisoners was aged 40–49 years (21 percent). Thirteen percent of prisoners were 50 years or older.

    Table 3

    Age of prisoners
      Female Male Total
    Age group Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
    17–19 33 6 406 5 439 5
    20–24 91 17 1,563 19 1,654 19
    25–29 91 17 1,356 17 1,447 17
    30–34 89 17 1,106 14 1,195 14
    35–39 69 13 982 12 1,051 12
    40–49 108 20 1,671 21 1,779 21
    50–59 38 7 705 9 743 9
    60+ 8 2 301 4 309 4
    Other/unknown 0 0 1 0 1 0
    Total 527 100 8,091 100 8,618 100

    Most-common offences

    The six most-common offences for which offenders are imprisoned are shown in table 4. Overall, 83 percent of offenders were in prison for these six offences.

    At 30 June 2012, for 21 percent of prisoners, the most serious offence they were imprisoned for was sexual assault and related offences. However, this varied considerably across the age groups. For example, 9 percent of those under 20 years were imprisoned for sexual or related offences while 50 percent of prisoners over 50 years were imprisoned for the same offences.

    The second most-common offence for prisoners was acts intended to cause injury (18 percent of all offences), which showed the opposite pattern – 24 percent was the highest proportion (20–24 years), while the smallest was 6 percent (50 years and over).

    Table 4

    Most-common offences for prisoners
    By age group
      Under 20 20–24 25–29 30–39 40–49 50+ Total
    Offence Percent
    Sexual assault and related offences 9 8 11 16 27 50 21
    Acts intended to cause injury 22 24 20 20 14 6 18
    Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter 28 22 18 14 8 3 14
    Robbery, extortion, and related offences 21 22 15 9 4 1 11
    Illicit drug offences 1 4 9 13 16 10 10
    Homicide and related offences 6 5 8 10 13 12 9
    Total 87 85 81 82 82 82 83

    Source: Department of Corrections and Statistics New Zealand

Overall, 83 percent of offenders were in prison for six types of offences.

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