Though the Government expects the extra police numbers to catch more offenders, it is looking at ways to limit or reduce the prison population.
One possibility is reducing how much time some prisoners might serve before being eligible for parole.
Finance Minister Steven Joyce confirmed that the Government was looking for ways to reduce the prison population over the weekend in a speech to a National Party regional conference in Taupo.
“We are looking at policies at the moment which look at how can we manage that demand (for prison places) down a little bit better and get the results while all; the while maintaining public safety,” he said.
“Amy Adams (Justice Minister) and her justice people are doing that work at the moment.
“We have some big investments coming up ahead of us in corrections, and that’s part of the infrastructure problem for a growing country sadly.
“We do have to think of ways that we can manage that cost while we maintain public safety.”
His comments came with the released by Treasury under the Official Information Act of its advice to the Government on the recently announced increase in police numbers of 1125 police and staff over the next four years.
The papers show that the Police actually proposed a total of 1460 more staff over four years, but that was rejected.
The proposal will directly cost the police $59 million in the coming budget year and will then rise to $136 million by 2020.
However the cost to corrections – including the capital cost, presumably of building new prisons — has been redacted.
A Treasury report to Joyce from January says: “There is a high degree of uncertainty about the cost estimates for the wider justice sector pipeline.
In our view, justice sector officials have followed a reasonable process for developing these cost estimates.
NZ Police estimated the additional proceedings across offence groups based on what current staff do and where the extra staff in the proposals would be deployed.
This was flowed through into expected increases in court actions and sentences (custodial and non-custodial), which included an estimated (redacted) extra prison beds.
“The Ministry of Justice and the Department of Corrections have provided costings for the expected additional volumes, broken into legal aid, courts costs and costs for the Department of Corrections (both operating and capital).”
“There is considerable uncertainty because it is difficult to know what the additional police officers will find, who they will prosecute for what offences, and what sentences will be imposed.”
Treasury says that the Police, in another paper which was not released, proposed options to reduce the pressure on the “justice pipeline.”
Another paper referring to the extra police numbers having a “material impact on the justice sector pipeline” has also had the section relating to corrections redacted.
Both the release of the papers and Joyce’s comments at the weekend appear to have let the cat out of the bag on what may be a major upheaval in the justice system to try and limit the prison population and the capital costs of building new prisons.
Joyce may well find support from Prime Minister Bill English who in 2011 said that prisons were “a moral and fiscal failure” and New Zealand should never build another one.
Even then Corrections Minister, Judith Collins, following up English’s comments said: “we cannot continue to keep locking up people at the rate that we have over the last decade, and that we have to put a lot more emphasis on rehabilitation.”
“We don’t see that we need to have to build new prisons after the Wiri project, and that’s basically because the crime statistics are starting to track down.”
But last October Collins announced it would spend $1 billion to create prison places for another 1800 inmates.
In December last year, there were 9914 prisoners in corrections facilities.
When English made his comments there were 8587 prisoners — an increase since then of 15.5%.