Part 2: A strategic priority of reducing reoffending

Department of Corrections: Managing offenders to reduce reoffending.

In this Part, we discuss:

  • the Department's strategic priority to reduce reoffending;
  • how the Department has organised to meet this priority; and
  • the logic behind the Department's approach to assessing and managing offenders.

Summary of our findings

The Department has a clear strategic priority to reduce reoffending, which staff understand well and support. The reducing reoffending programme is based on sound intervention logic that targets the groups and behaviours that contribute disproportionately to rates of offending. The Department now offers programmes to prisoners on remand or short sentences who had high reoffending rates but who were previously ineligible for rehabilitation.

The Department carried out a range of structural changes in 2012 to unify its effort to reduce reoffending. This led to better collaboration between prisons and community probation, and moved leadership and decision-making to the regions. The restructure appears to have been done well.

The body of knowledge and professional skills of the psychologists the Department employs have helped to create a culture that values evidence. There is a strong emphasis on evidence-based interventions and evaluation in assessing and managing offenders. The Department's approach is based on a substantial body of international research known as What Works.

In our view, the Department should be commended for preparing a practical strategy that clearly sets out its outputs, its intervention logic, and the outcomes that it expects to achieve. The Department's strategic priority is in line with the justice sector's shared outcomes framework and the Better Public Services action plan.1 "Reducing reoffending by 25% by 2017" is clear, well understood, and easy to articulate.

The strategic framework that the Department of Corrections works within

The Department is one of several public entities in the justice sector. Others are the Ministry of Justice, the New Zealand Police (the Police), the Crown Law Office, the Serious Fraud Office, and the Ministry of Social Development (for youth justice). In 2004, justice sector Ministers agreed to a framework of shared sector outcomes. The primary justice sector outcome is "a safe and just society".

Under this framework, the Department works to achieve two specific outcomes:

  • reduced reoffending; and
  • improved public safety.

The two outcomes are not mutually exclusive. One way to improve public safety is to reduce reoffending.

In 2011, the Department released a four-year strategic plan called Creating Lasting Change. It focuses on four priority areas:

  • public safety;
  • reducing reoffending;
  • better public value; and
  • visible leadership.

In March 2012, the Government launched the Better Public Services programme. The Department's strategic planning corresponded with the launch of the programme. As part of the Better Public Services programme, the Department set the target of reducing reoffending by 25% by 2017.

In July 2012, the justice sector released an action plan to direct progress towards reducing crime and reoffending. This action plan included seven work streams that formed the basis of the Department's reducing reoffending programme that was announced in August 2012. We have set out in Appendix 1 the strategic framework the Department works within.

Appendix 2 sets out the Department's programme in a Reducing Reoffending Action Plan. The Department's programme aims to give offenders the skills and support they need to live a crime-free life. Initiatives within the work streams include:

  • expanding alcohol and drug treatment for offenders;
  • expanding effective rehabilitation programmes, with increased focus on offenders on remand, offenders serving short sentences, community-based offenders, female offenders, and young offenders;
  • preparing a youth strategy to maximise rehabilitation options for young offenders;
  • enhancing rehabilitation services for high-risk offenders on community-based sentences;
  • expanding education and training programmes to provide offenders with the skills to secure employment after they are released from prison;
  • implementing working prisons and increasing offenders' participation in employment;
  • working with employers and industry to provide jobs for offenders after they are released from prison; and
  • fostering partnerships with iwi and the community to support offenders' social and accommodation needs.

The Department is able to expand treatment and rehabilitation programmes because an efficiency and effectiveness review (see paragraph 2.30) identified $85 million in savings. These savings have been reprioritised towards the reducing reoffending programme.

The Department's intervention logic

The Department's rehabilitation initiatives are based on sound intervention logic that targets the groups and behaviours that contribute disproportionately to rates of offending. For example, 51% of crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs, 65% of offenders have alcohol or drug problems, more than 60% of offenders are unemployed before they are imprisoned, and up to 90% of offenders have literacy needs.

The Department specifically targets Māori offenders to address their high and disproportionate rates of offending. Māori represent about half of all offenders in prison and 45% of offenders serving community-based sentences. The Department maintains that, to achieve its goals, it must be more successful with Māori offenders.

Young offenders (under 20 years of age) are targeted because they are more likely to reoffend than older offenders, and intervention early in a criminal career might prevent a lifetime of further offending.

The Department also focuses on female offenders because, although men are significantly more represented, the number of female offenders is growing and the crimes they commit are becoming more violent.

Previously, the Department did not offer programmes to offenders serving short sentences. Every year, about 6000 prisoners who have served two years or less are released. This group has the highest reoffending rates. Previously, prisoners on remand were not eligible for any rehabilitation programmes. During our audit, the Department piloted a programme at three prisons to extend case management to remand prisoners. A review of the pilot suggested that it was successful, and the programme is likely to be rolled out to all prisons in December 2013.

The Department told us that initiatives targeting prisoners on remand and short sentences are new for New Zealand.

The Department has comprehensively forecasted the additional benefits that each work stream will deliver. For example, the Department forecasts that expanding alcohol and drug treatment will lead to 280 fewer reimprisonments and 1220 fewer community reconvictions each year. Overall, the Department expects that the reducing reoffending programme will result in 600 fewer reimprisonments, 4000 fewer community reconvictions, and 18,500 fewer victims each year.

Several people told us that the ambitious target of a 25% reduction in reoffending has provided a point of focus and been a catalyst for change. Staff are encouraged to try new things to achieve the target. A "business as usual" approach would not deliver the amount of change needed to achieve a 25% reduction. Picking an ambitious goal has "struck the hearts and minds" of staff. We often heard how the 25% target has galvanised people behind the strategy.

Unifying the Department of Corrections' effort

The Department recognised that achieving such an aspirational goal would require transformational change.

In 2012, the Department carried out a wide range of structural changes to unify its effort to reduce reoffending by 25% by 2017. The previous organisational structure had three distinct service lines supported by corporate groups: Prison, Rehabilitation and Reintegration, and Community Probation. Some staff told us this led to the Department "working in silos".

The aim of the restructure was to provide greater integration throughout the Department. The restructure formed the Service Development Group, which includes the positions of Chief Custodial Officer, Chief Probation Officer, and Chief Psychologist. These three positions provide national oversight to ensure consistency. They are the "guardians of best practice". They are responsible for ensuring that lessons learned from one discipline can be applied to others. These positions provide guidance and advice, and do not make decisions for the regions.

The restructure shifted leadership and decision-making to the regions. Each region now has a Regional Commissioner that the three service lines are combined under. Managers and staff in the regions are accountable for delivering results through district plans.

Many people think that the restructure has led to better collaboration between the three service lines and commented that they are not working in silos any more. For example, the Northern Regional Commissioner told us that, as a regional manager in the prisons, she used to say, "I'll speak with my counterparts in rehabilitation and reintegration, and probation." Now that she is responsible for all three service lines, she can make sure that they are working together – in particular, to manage the transition of offenders from prison into the community.

The restructure appears to have been done well. People affected by the restructure told us that there was open communication throughout the process, consultation was sought and valued, and staff feedback was acted on. There was visible leadership, with the Chief Executive and leadership team spending a lot of time in the regions with staff and stakeholders.

The Department's workforce survey reinforces these comments. The results show that 88% of staff are proud of their work and that 86% are committed to what they do.

The What Works approach

A substantial body of international research on reducing reoffending efforts, known as What Works, has influenced the design of the Department's approach to managing offenders. What Works identifies three main principles to help rehabilitation and reduce reoffending. They are risk, need, and responsivity (RNR):

  • Risk: Interventions are more likely to reduce reoffending rates when they are targeted at offenders who have a high risk of reoffending.
  • Need: To have the greatest effect on reducing reoffending, rehabilitation should attempt to address crime-causing characteristics and needs, such as anti-social beliefs and substance abuse problems.
  • Responsivity: Assessments are designed to evaluate an offender's motivation and willingness to change. There is no point in putting offenders into programmes that they cannot benefit from because of a lack of motivation. Responsivity also includes delivering programmes in a way that offenders will relate to and understand.

The Department regularly reviews its approach to offender rehabilitation to ensure that it remains relevant. For example, in 2011/12, the Department carried out an expenditure review. Its purpose was to review the effectiveness and efficiency of expenditure in the Department. As part of this, an internationally respected expert in correctional rehabilitation practices was engaged to review the Department's approach to rehabilitation and reintegration. The review team was asked to comment on the Department's consistency with an evidence-based approach that is in line with the international trends identified by What Works. The review team found that the Department's high standards of professional integrity in adhering to scientific evidence and credible clinical practices set a benchmark for other jurisdictions.

The Department also looks at international research and other jurisdictions' practices to inform its approach. The flow of information goes both ways. Rehabilitation practices in New Zealand are mentioned in international research literature – in particular, the success of the approach used in the sexual and violent offender units.

The Department is the largest employer of psychologists in New Zealand, and several senior managers also have a psychology background. The body of knowledge and professional skills of the psychologists has helped to create a culture that values evidence. There is a strong emphasis on evidence-based practices and evaluation that underpins how the Department assesses and manages offenders.

In our view, the Department should be commended for preparing a strategy that is based on a sound intervention logic and that clearly sets out its outputs and the outcomes it expects to achieve. The Department's strategic priority is in line with the justice sector shared outcomes framework and the Better Public Services action plan. "Reducing reoffending by 25% by 2017" is clear, well understood, and easy to articulate.

1: See

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