In recent years, New Zealand has seen a decline in both recorded crime and the number of prosecutions. However, in the same period, the prison population has continued to climb. In this chapter, we examine the reasons for New Zealand's high per capita prison population and illustrate that attempts to reduce prosecution have not filtered through to affect rates of imprisonment.
In Part II, we outline the trend of a declining crime rate over the last decade, and note that criminalisation is almost exclusively reserved for behaviour involving harm to individuals or the community. However, the rate of real crime is almost certainly much higher than the numers recorded, as is illustrated in victim surveys conducted by the Government. In common with comparable jurisdictions such as England and Wales, there has been an increase in quasicriminal offences and orders over the past decade, and we examine two examples of these. These alternatives to criminalisation sit alongside police practice and discretion, which allow for tolerance in areas such as the possession of illicit drugs.
New Zealand's expedience-based prosecution process contains no centralised prosecution service, but instead relies on the police to initiate most prosecutions.
In Part III we examine prosecution trends and the offences prosecuted in the greatest numbers, as well as the process of prosecutions for both minor and more serious offences. Since 2010, greater efforts have been made by New Zealand Police to consider alternatives to prosecution, but we argue that these have had little impact on the prison population or on rates of imprisonment.
In Part IV, we argue that the overuse of imprisonment in New Zealand can be seen to be a result of longer nominal and effective sentences imposed. This in turn has been driven by both government policy and the public mood, as affected by the media and pressure groups. Alongside a high per capita prison prison population sits an extensive system of non-custodial penalties. Despite some restrictions, in general judges have a relatively wide discretion when imposing sentences. We conclude by noting the rather blunt mechanisms open to Government to reduce imprisonment in the current system and the consequent likelihood of continued overuse of imprisonment in New Zealand.