Auditor-General's overview

Department of Corrections: Managing offenders to reduce reoffending.

Most of us know someone who has been affected by crime. The goals of the Department of Corrections (the Department) are to improve public safety and reduce reoffending.

This report sets out the findings of a performance audit that focused on the Department's work to reduce reoffending. We wanted to assess how well the Department is managing offenders to achieve this goal. The Department has set a target to reduce reoffending by 25% by 2017. Overall, this would result in 600 fewer reimprisonments, 4000 fewer community reconvictions, and about 18,500 fewer victims each year.

The Department works in a challenging environment. It is responsible for managing more than 40,000 offenders at any one time. About 8500 are held in prisons, and about 32,000 are serving a community-based sentence or order. Many of the offenders the Department manages have high alcohol and drug dependencies, high mental health needs, low literacy and numeracy skills, and low job skills and qualifications.

We found strengths in how the Department is working to reduce reoffending. The Department's approach to managing offenders is based on, and supported by, international research. It has a culture that values evidence. For example, the Department has placed increased focus on education, training, and employment opportunities for offenders, which research has shown to be effective in reducing reoffending. The Department also targets Māori offenders, who represent about half of all offenders in prison and 45% of offenders serving community-based sentences.

The Department continuously assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of its interventions, learns from success and failures, and uses that information for improvements. The Department is to be commended for its evidence-based approach.

The Department is increasing the number of programmes that work and is putting systems and tools in place to better manage offenders to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. However, it faces some challenges in scheduling offenders into programmes and ensuring the successful transition of prisoners into the community.

The Department will need to continue working on the challenges it faces to maintain and enhance the effectiveness of its approach. We have made recommendations to assist the Department in addressing some of these challenges:

  • efficiently and effectively scheduling offenders into programmes – for example, having a scheduling system that provides a structured day for offenders and supports rehabilitation and reintegration once an offender has completed rehabilitation;
  • continuing to strengthen the alignment between prisons and community probation – in particular, how case managers in prisons and probation officers work together to better transition offenders from prisons into the community; and
  • being more consistent in getting feedback from offenders and stakeholders.

The Department carried out a range of structural changes in 2012 to unify its effort to reduce reoffending. It moved leadership and decision-making to the regions and brought together the management of prisons, community probation, and rehabilitation and reintegration services under a unified regional management structure. The Department also has a clear strategy that staff understand well. The Department has clearly defined what it wants to achieve and how its work contributes to reducing reoffending.

In 2009, my Office carried out a performance audit that looked at the Department's compliance with its procedures for managing offenders. The report of that audit made several recommendations. To the Department's credit, the changes it has made have extended beyond the recommendations of our 2009 report.

The Department still has some way to go to achieve its target of reducing reoffending by 25% by 2017. It has made a good start and has achieved encouraging early results, particularly with community-based offenders. In the last two years, the reoffending rate has reduced from 30.1% to 26.6%. However, the Department manages some very difficult people and will never be able to stop all reoffending. It is important that the Department builds on its successes so far.

I thank the Department – particularly the staff at the National Office and the staff and offenders in the prisons and community probation centres my staff visited – for their time and co-operation.

Signature - LP 

Lyn Provost
Controller and Auditor-General

5 December 2013

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