Photo KnowInsiders
How Many Prisons And Prisoners In New Zealand: Prison History, Full List, Oldest Prison. Photo KnowInsiders
Table of Content

History of prisons in New Zealand

New Zealand’s first jails were built in the 1840s from wood or raupō (bulrush), and were so flimsy that prisoners often had to be chained up to stop them escaping. Prisons were overcrowded and poorly resourced, and the mentally ill and homeless were imprisoned with dangerous offenders.

From 1853, when the provinces were formed, provincial governments ran prisons.

Photo Te Arra
Photo Te Arra

After the provinces were abolished in 1876, a national prison system was set up. Conditions were tough, to deter people from committing crimes. From the 1910s reformers suggested that prisons should ‘cure’ people of criminal tendencies, rather than just punishing them.

In the 1950s prisoners received better education, food and services, and prison psychologists were appointed. However, the prison population grew as the crime rate rose. Prisons became overcrowded, and in 1965 Mt Eden inmates rioted and burned the prison. Drugs, gangs and violence became problems.

How many prisons in New Zealand?

New Zealand had a prison population of 199 per 100,000 of the population, or 8,755 people out of a population of 4.41 million. This was the eighth-highest rate in the 34 countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

How many prisoners in New Zealand?

Prison/Corrections Facility

Remand Prisoners

Sentenced Prisoners

Onsite Population

Offsite Population

Total Population

Population %

Total Male Prisoners

2,589

4,591

7,180

74

7,254

94.2%

Auckland Prison

58

489

547

13

560

7.3%

Auckland South Corrections Facility

0

797

797

1

798

10.4%

Christchurch Men's Prison

336

397

733

13

746

9.7%

Hawke's Bay Regional Prison

178

299

477

3

480

6.2%

Invercargill Prison

47

78

125

1

126

1.6%

Manawatu Prison

122

121

243

1

244

3.2%

Mount Eden Corrections Facility

717

61

778

11

789

10.2%

Northland Region Corrections Facility

190

232

422

0

422

5.5%

Otago Corrections Facility

111

205

316

3

319

4.1%

Rimutaka Prison

189

372

561

13

574

7.5%

Rolleston Prison

0

257

257

0

257

3.3%

Spring Hill Corrections Facility

414

310

724

11

735

9.5%

Tongariro Prison

0

355

355

0

355

4.6%

Waikeria Prison

79

361

440

3

443

5.8%

Whanganui Prison

148

257

405

1

406

5.3%

Total Female Prisoners

208

230

438

10

448

5.8%

Arohata Prison

56

48

104

5

109

1.4%

Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility

114

137

251

3

254

3.3%

Christchurch Women's Prison

38

45

83

2

85

1.1%

Why does New Zealand imprison so many Maori?

In the 19th century very few Māori were imprisoned. However, numbers rose over the 20th century, and in 2011, 51% of prisoners were Māori (compared with 15% of the total population).

Over half of all prisoners in New Zealand are Maori - how did it come to this? And what can be done about it?

In 1989, Kim Workman was the first Maori to be appointed operational head of New Zealand prisons but, today, the prison reformist believes the institutions should be abolished.

Photo Scoop NZ
Photo Scoop NZ

Frank Film’s latest two episodes in its Changing South series, put the spotlight on the growth of Maori incarceration since European settlement and include an extended interview with Workman to better understand how Maori have become one of the most incarcerated, indigenous people in the world.

Currently, Maori make up 52% of the prison population but only 16% of New Zealand’s total population.

Ta Kim, knighted for his services to prisoner welfare and the justice system, explains that prior to European settlement Maori used a restorative justice process, based on punishment, compensation or utu, and with a view to “restoring a community to a place of peace and balance.”

Workman, who affiliates to Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, says that under English rule the number of incarcerated Maori climbed steadily over the 20th century. He claims this was a result of socio-economic factors and systemic bias.

More recently, he believes the Bail Amendment Act, which came into effect in 2013, has resulted in more Maori on remand and, as a result, a rise in gang recruitment behind the wire, with 70% of imprisoned Maori having gang connections.

On a visit to Christchurch Men’s Prison, Frank Film meets southern regional commissioner Ben Clark who explains the Department of Corrections’ new strategy, Hokai Rangi, implemented with a desire to turn the tide on growing Maori rates of imprisonment.

Clark, who immigrated from England a decade ago, admits he’s “not Maori and his face doesn’t represent the main demographic in our prisons” but he believes in what Hokai Rangi represents and is trying to achieve, in delivering a more “humanising and healing” whanau based service. “We need to work in better with family .. they’re going to be released into the community, it's not good if we just set them up to fall over.”

For Ta Kim, one major hurdle remains, “it’s still maintaining control of the process,” he says. “What we want to see is a Maori-led, tikanga Maori process which is based on Maori thinking and, while it might be available for pakeha, it’s focused on Maori and Maori beliefs.”

Women in Jails

Women have always been a small proportion of the prison population – in 2011 about 6%. In the 19th century women were imprisoned with men, and it was often assumed that women prisoners were incorrigible criminals. From 1913 separate prisons were set up for women.

What is the oldest prison in New Zealand?

Opened in 1862, Napier Prison is New Zealand's oldest penal complex. The Prison survived the 1931 Earthquake and has been the location of several TV Shows including Ghost Hunters International on the SyFy and Redemption Hill, a 10 part Brat Camp. Open daily for self-guided tours, guided tours, school trips and scary night tours. This historical site can also be used for group functions including office parties and birthdays.

New Zealand’s oldest prison, which housed some of the country’s most dangerous criminals, has been recognised with the highest heritage listing.

Heritage New Zealand has given Napier Prison, known as Napier Gaol, Category 1 status in the New Zealand Heritage List.

The top category recognises a building’s special or outstanding historical or cultural significance.

The prison, decommissioned in 1993, has been home to the Waaka family since 2002. It was built on Bluff Hill in 1862, and was further expanded in 1863 and 1869.

Marion Waaka remembered seeing tumbleweeds and ivy on the outside of the building.

She said she was proud of the Category 1 status, and that it provided her “a sense of relief, because it’s protected now”.

In 1875, a stand-alone asylum also opened on the prison site.

Four executions were carried out in the prison between 1872 and 1889, and some prisoners are believed to have stuck around and made their presence known to guests.

“There was one girl in particular who said that at night she would wake up and someone would be stroking her arms and her hair,” Toro Waaka said.

By 2002, it was a tourist attraction. Tours are now being given in 15 languages.

Toro Waaka said many people wanted to see the place.

“They would tell us stories and all of them were very interesting,” he said.

The prison housed infamous criminals, like mass murderer Roland Edwards . In February 1884, he killed his four children and his wife.

It also held Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki before he was exiled without trial to the Chatham Islands on unproven spying claims. The Māori leader, guerrilla fighter and founder of the Ringatu Church was pardoned in 1883.

Who is the oldest prisoner in New Zealand?

Vincent is New Zealand's longest-serving prisoner.

The Christchurch man was one of the first people to be sentenced to preventive detention after he was convicted in 1968 of performing indecencies on five boys aged 12-14, including brothers, over about a year.

He has spent more than 50 years in prison.

Vincent first became eligible for parole 37 years ago, and has been refused each time.

The only time the child sex offender has spent outside prison was during day passes and weekend leaves in the early 80s - which were revoked when he was caught talking to young boys.

How Many Prisons Are There In Canada: Inmate Population, How to Suffer How Many Prisons Are There In Canada: Inmate Population, How to Suffer

How Many Prisons Are There In Canada? What Is Prison Population Across The Country? How Prisoners In Canada Suffer? Find out the answers in the ...

10 Most Violent And Deadliest Prisons In The World That You Want To Avoid 10 Most Violent And Deadliest Prisons In The World That You Want To Avoid

Many prisons around the world suffer from overcrowding, as you will read on to find that cells meant to contain only 10 inmates have been ...

10 Oldest Prisons In The United States - The First Jails 10 Oldest Prisons In The United States - The First Jails

Prisons are the last place anyone would wish to go, and United States has some of the oldest, most menacing prisons ever with a cruel ...