NZ imprisonment rates

November 25th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Most of us have probably heard at some stage a stat that NZ has the second highest imprisonment rate in the world. Well it seems that stat is massively wrong.

Stats Chat blogs that in fact NZ has only the 8th highest in the OECD and the 74th highest in the world.

Would still be nice for them to be lower – but than comes about if we have fewer serious or repeat criminals – and the recent trend is for both the violent crime rate and the imprisonment rate to be dropping.

Not sure how the myth started of NZ having the second highest rate. Maybe it once was true – but clearly isn’t today.

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37 Responses to “NZ imprisonment rates”

  1. queenstfarmer (782 comments) says:

    What a surprise, then, to see the Greens’ website full of comments such as “Kiwis should be very concerned that New Zealand has the second-highest rate of imprisonment“, “Labour have raised our imprisonment rate to easily the second highest in the OECD” etc [edited]

    The Greens never care much for facts or science.

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  2. metcalph (1,367 comments) says:

    I think a reason for our higher imprisonment rates than Oz is because we have better incarceration rates for imprisonable crimes (ie Oz has a worse record of actually finding the guy wot dun it because they have more people in “South Auckland” zones than we do per head of population)

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  3. Longknives (4,968 comments) says:

    “Would still be nice for them to be lower ”

    I actually want it to be higher- The more scum behind bars the safer my family is..
    End of story.

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  4. Graeme Edgeler (2,972 comments) says:

    I actually want it to be higher

    It is higher. Latest numbers have us at 6th in the OECD.

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  5. Longknives (4,968 comments) says:

    And does any out there actually believe that violent crime is dropping??
    (Remember it is in the Government and Police’s interest to fudge the stats on this as much as possible…)

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  6. Graeme Edgeler (2,972 comments) says:

    Not sure how the myth started of NZ having the second highest rate. Maybe it once was true – but clearly isn’t today.

    Judith Collins says she has looked into this, and she concluded that it started to arise after an analysis that compared New Zealand with Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States only.

    I had thought there might have been a time when we were second in the OECD (before OECD expansion added most of the countries that are ahead of us now), but pre-expansion was also before the massive rise in our imprisonment rates in the early-mid 90s.

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  7. Graeme Edgeler (2,972 comments) says:

    And does any out there actually believe that violent crime is dropping?

    The homicide rate is certainly dropping, and that’s a little harder to fudge.

    It makes a certain sense that as the population ages, violent crime rates will drop.

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  8. Weihana (4,621 comments) says:

    Longknives (3,360) Says:
    November 25th, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    And does any out there actually believe that violent crime is dropping??
    (Remember it is in the Government and Police’s interest to fudge the stats on this as much as possible…)

    Yes.


    New Zealand’s murder rate appears to have almost halved in the past 20 years despite an overwhelming public belief that crime has got worse.

    Police statistics show that for 44 years until about 1970 the murder rate fluctuated around an average of six a year for every million people.

    The rate leapt to an average of 21 murders per million people annually from 1985 to 1992, but has dropped steadily ever since.

    Last year’s rate was 12.1 murders per million people.

    2012/2013 rate was 11 murders per million people. How do you suppose police fudge statistics on homicide?

    And if you don’t use statistics then what do you use? And if it’s in the government’s interest to fudge statistics why wasn’t this true in the past?

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  9. Weihana (4,621 comments) says:

    Longknives (3,361) Says:
    November 25th, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I actually want it to be higher- The more scum behind bars the safer my family is..

    Why is the United States not a safer country if that were the case?

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  10. burt (7,436 comments) says:

    Not sure how the myth started of NZ having the second highest rate. Maybe it once was true – but clearly isn’t today.

    Well it’s obvious really – The opposition say 2nd highest, the government say 8th… who would expect anything other than say what it takes to win (or keep) the hearts and minds of the voters. This is a socialist country – of course the politicians make shit up all the time.

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  11. Graeme Edgeler (2,972 comments) says:

    Why is the United States not a safer country if that were the case?

    Well, imagine how unsafe they’d be if all of those people were let out!

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  12. Longknives (4,968 comments) says:

    Not like you to come into bat for the Police Weihana?

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  13. gump (1,685 comments) says:

    @Longknives

    “I actually want it to be higher- The more scum behind bars the safer my family is..
    End of story.”

    ——————

    So you like paying tax, and you want to pay even more tax so the government can expand the prison system. That’s good to know.

    Hint: It’s considerably cheaper to rehabilitate offenders than to imprison them.

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  14. David Garrett (7,701 comments) says:

    Graeme E: I am not sure if you are taking the piss…but you are actually right..the five fold decrease in homicides in New York City for example (since the early 90’s) is at least as much due to “sentence enhancement” as to the much vaunted zero tolerance policing..probably more so.

    gump: when you come up with the way (any way will do) to cut recidivism by 50% let me in on the share float first…

    Put simply, they lock more of the bad guys up for longer than they did 20 years ago, and that is true for almost all states in the US.

    And before some clown informs me that New York is not a “three strikes” state…I know…but they have a much more complicated regime that achieves much the same thing.

    But back to “the second highest in the world”…that has become “a fact” simply by endless repetititon by the media, and not enough credible people like Graeme rebutting it, and calling it for the leftist lie that it is

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  15. Weihana (4,621 comments) says:

    Graeme Edgeler (3,131) Says:
    November 25th, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Well, imagine how unsafe they’d be if all of those people were let out!

    You’re making a circular argument. You’re assuming that higher rates of incarceration equate to increased safety which is the point of contention. The United States doesn’t seem to reflect that. If one accepts that higher incarcertaion makes the public safer then the question arises as to why this isn’t reflected in the statistics and thus why they are so different to us.

    I note that many inmates in the United States are drug offenders. That may be a place to start though even considering that point I’m still doubtful that a highly punitive justice system produces a safer society as compared to those which might, for instance, focus more on rehabilitation.

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  16. Alan (1,087 comments) says:

    I suspect that much of the drop in the murder rate can be attributed to vastly improved A&E departments and better provisioned and crewed ambulances. People that would have been murdered in the past are not dying.

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  17. Weihana (4,621 comments) says:

    Longknives (3,364) Says:
    November 25th, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Not like you to come into bat for the Police Weihana?

    Why not? I’m not aware I had expressed an overly negative attitude towards the police. They’re human like the rest of us and certainly aren’t saints. But I think the vast majority are genuinely decent people doing their job as best they can.

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  18. David Garrett (7,701 comments) says:

    Weihana: I will write very slowly … just for you…Doing it in point form may make it even easier to follow:

    1. In the 1980’s the US was a very violent country, especially some of the larger cities.

    2. At that time many states – including California – were still experimenting with different regimes which met the “criminogenic needs” (I am not making that phrase up) of – say – hispanic and black offenders. They werent working, just as Kim Workman’s famous He Ara Hou programme wasn’t working here.

    3. In the early 90’s the American population got pissed off with ever increasing violence, and did a 180 degree U turn on penal policy. Most states adopted some kind of “sentence enhancement” policies, of which “three strikes” is a variant. New York hit the problem at both ends, with more comprehensive and “sentence enhancement” for repeat offenders. New York State got the biggest reductions of all.

    4. Crime generally, and violent crime in particular, dropped like a stone. Homicides went from 2500 odd annually in New York City to about 650. Violent crime in California dropped by 60% from 1994 to 2000.

    5. Left wing academics across the US – and around the world – adopted what the late Dennis Dutton described as “a feverish search for the ‘real reason’ crime had dropped so fast and so much. Any reason would do, so long as it wasnt something as simple as more punitive policies”. Because if you are a pointy head criminologist, it could not possibly be that.

    6. So now, you can take your pick from a whole heap of theories including more readily available abortions from 1972, and removing lead from petrol (I am not making that up). Or you can accept that removing the 20% who do 80% of the crime from society for 25 years or more has made American society very much safer than it was.

    There you go…I hope you can follow that.

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  19. Graeme Edgeler (2,972 comments) says:

    Graeme E: I am not sure if you are taking the piss…but you are actually right

    I kind of was. It’s the type of claim someone can make, without anyone really being able to disprove it.

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  20. David Garrett (7,701 comments) says:

    Alan: You are quite right. The “trauma medicine factor” is responsible according to some pundits for a 30% or more drop in homicides. Put simply, if you get stabbed and lose a lot of blood, you are much less likely to die now that you were 20 years ago – so long as you get medical help quickly.

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  21. Dazzaman (1,082 comments) says:

    I’d prefer to see more of the bogan type get a little lag time. Tattoos, indecent t shirts, dangerous mutts & Holden/Ford caps seem to have taken over as the default type for a New Zealander. A pox on them all, & jail time for their usual crime of abusing their “stepdaughters”….

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  22. David Garrett (7,701 comments) says:

    Typo in my 3.30 pm..Point 3 should read “…more comprehensive policing and sentence enhancement…”

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  23. Weihana (4,621 comments) says:

    David Garrett (4,492) Says:
    November 25th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Weihana: I will write very slowly … just for you…

    No need to be patronizing.

    There you go…I hope you can follow that.

    Yes, I can follow it. I just don’t see that you’ve provided conclusive evidence beyond a supposed correlation which could also be argued for other theories. If the ‘pointy headed criminologists’ pick their theory because they are biased, I’m not sure how your choice is any better based on your evidence.

    Your explanation leaves much unanswered such as why there is so much violence in the first place? What made violence rise when the incarcerated population, as a percentage, remained more or less flat? Why is crime still in excess of many other places despite the relative decrease? The incarcerated population rose through the 80s as well as the 90s, but only the 90s saw the effect of reduced crime rates. On the other hand with baby boomers peaking about 1960 the 80s was the decade where these people were in their twenties.

    I wouldn’t disagree that if a person is dangerous we are safer with that person being locked up and I’m not against the idea that more punitive measures can be beneficial. But I suspect the reality is more complex than you give credit for and my simple point is that simply saying we should have more people in prison does not necessarily mean a safer society.

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  24. Kea (13,580 comments) says:

    Why is the United States not a safer country if that were the case?

    Weihana, the USA is a safer place, when you take out black crime.

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  25. Ryan Sproull (7,361 comments) says:

    6. So now, you can take your pick from a whole heap of theories including more readily available abortions from 1972, and removing lead from petrol (I am not making that up). Or you can accept that removing the 20% who do 80% of the crime from society for 25 years or more has made American society very much safer than it was.

    Hmm. So that massive reduction in violent crime is all a reduction in recidivist crime, because the criminals aren’t getting let back out?

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  26. gump (1,685 comments) says:

    @David Garrett

    The recidivism rate for violent offenders in NZ is already less than 50%.

    It is almost as if *gasp* properly structured and supervised rehabilitation programs can modify people’s behaviour. Shocking isn’t it!

    There is a small subset of people that need to be incarcerated indefinitely because of the risk they pose to society. Given that the majority of prisoners will be released at some future point, it makes sense to invest in programs that will allow them to reintegrate in society. Unless – of course – you want them to reoffend.

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  27. wally (68 comments) says:

    I play tennis with a group of very senior legal people. One of them was telling a story on Saturday about a career criminal who had 350 plus convictions including one for manslaughter. None of them could give a good explanation of why this man was not locked up for a very long time.

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  28. Viking2 (11,685 comments) says:

    David Garrett (4,494) Says:
    November 25th, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Alan: You are quite right. The “trauma medicine factor” is responsible according to some pundits for a 30% or more drop in homicides. Put simply, if you get stabbed and lose a lot of blood, you are much less likely to die now that you were 20 years ago – so long as you get medical help quickly.
    ======================================

    Interesting thought because we could also point out that this also applies to the lowered road toll. A toll that is certain to rise again for the very obvious reason the stupid Kiwi’s are buying into the bullshit that little cars with safety ratings are safer. They will be until ya hit a 60 tonner. no wriggle room then.

    Today Acc have said the will determine ACC costs to a motor vehicle registration based on the false premise that some cars are safer according to a half baked destruction test at low speeds.
    Still you will get sucked into that stuff.

    Off topic I know but ………………….

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  29. emmess (1,398 comments) says:

    So you like paying tax, and you want to pay even more tax so the government can expand the prison system.

    Not really but given that we do, this is at top of the list things that it should pay for.
    Having said that there is not reason it should cost as much as it does though

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  30. Sonny Blount (1,809 comments) says:

    Weihana (4,098) Says:
    November 25th, 2013 at 1:53 pm
    Longknives (3,361) Says:
    November 25th, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I actually want it to be higher- The more scum behind bars the safer my family is..

    Why is the United States not a safer country if that were the case?

    It is.

    Far safer.

    In New Zealand you are much more likely to be assaulted, robbed, sexually assaulted, or have your car stolen than the US. In fact across those crimes we are the second worst OECD country after the UK.

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  31. Sonny Blount (1,809 comments) says:

    Kea (8,967) Says:
    November 25th, 2013 at 4:26 pm
    Why is the United States not a safer country if that were the case?

    Weihana, the USA is a safer place, when you take out black crime.

    You don’t even need to take out Black crime for it to be safer.

    You need to seperate murder, which is the crime I am least worried about. Burglary, assault, and rape are the bulk of crimes experienced by a pooulation. We are far worse.

    Murder is very seperate from other conditions in a society, in fact it is closely related to cultural homgeneity and the US is far more disparate than most other western countries.

    It is lowest in monocultural nations such as Norway and Japan, and higher where cultures are recently mixed. You just need to seperate the US’s border states to be left with a low murder rate by western standards amongst the non border US states.

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  32. kiwi in america (2,314 comments) says:

    Sonny is right. The US homicide rate is skewered by a few bad states and cities. At least 50% of US States have a lower homicide rate than NZ (depends on which NZ years you compare). The states and cities with murder rates higher than NZ have definable reasons for the higher rate (for example Phoenix where almost all murders are Hispanic on Hispanic and somewhat of a spillover from the Mexican drug wars).

    But when you take out homicide which, even in the high murder states and cities is still a rare crime, the rates of other crime that are far more prevalent (assaults, rapes, burglaries and car thefts) than murder, the rates across the US are lower and in many states significantly lower than New Zealand.

    NZ rates in these non homicide crimes have been coming down in the last 5 years but very slowly compared to the quite large drops in almost all US jurisdictions.

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  33. Scott1 (592 comments) says:

    I’m finding it hard to find the state with a lower murder rate than NZ. Comparing the info at “deathpenaltyinfo and wikipedia I got NZ being lower than every state. new Hampshire North Dakota and South Dakota had some better years in the 1995-2012 period but still worse on average.

    From how these things work I expect there are districts which have systematically lower rates than New Zealand largely where they have very little population density.

    I compared car theft statistics with Wikipedia populations and got the US having a slightly lower rate per head of population.

    I didn’t do the others because of reporting issues. Which is to say that rape and assault is probably much more reported in NZ than it is in many other countries. But I do know that no one I know has ever been raped, I’ve never been assaulted, I’ve had my car broken into and even moved – but not stolen and I’ve never had a burglary. So I’m surprised if NZ is a particularly dangerous place for that sort of thing. Even beyond that – at a cultural level I think we collectively have our guard down – unlike places like USA and South Africa.

    I think Sonny’s point regarding cultural homogeneity is a valid one that the statistics would support (although hard to do that accurately). There was some good statistics that were done at a city level I think but I don’t know where I saw that.

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  34. Sonny Blount (1,809 comments) says:

    The more common statistics you hear on crime are rubbish.

    Like you say, reporting rates are perhaps interesting but that is very different from a crime rate. Very different amounts of crime goes on inplaces from how much is reported to authorities.

    Conviction rates are pretty much rubbish. It can reflect the amount of resources allocated to law enforcement and different attitutudes. Take Swedens sky rocketing rape figures which really reflect a law change.

    The best indicator we have so far was a ‘victimisation’ survey done for several years out of Holland. In these studies the population is surveyed to find how often people have experienced various kinds of events in whatever recent period set out. This obvioulsy doens’t work for homocide but that is the most accurate crime statistic (so long as people aren’t doing stupid things like including suicide rates in figures such as how likely a gun is to be used against its owner).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Crime_Victims_Survey

    Go to page 36 of the latest report to see the overall summary.

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  35. Left Right and Centre (3,014 comments) says:

    350 convictions wally ? Far out – 350 ??

    I wonder who holds the record ?

    What about a law that says it’s game over after hitting triple figures ? Hey mate – it’s all good – you can have video games, internet and a homegym – you just can’t leave these grounds. Ever.

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  36. Judith (8,534 comments) says:

    This document, prepared for the PM, gives some good information about crime rates etc, for those wanting a comparison.

    Global rates have been dropping for several years, so nothing we are doing here in NZ has put us in a significantly different bracket. There has just been a general downward trend world wide.

    However, as has been pointed out – medical advances, lack of reporting (many NZ insurance companies now no longer expect police reporting for items ‘stolen’ under a certain value), and so on – all contribute.

    http://www.rethinking.org.nz/assets/Newsletter_PDF/Issue_101/Reducing_Imprisonment.pdf

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  37. Judith (8,534 comments) says:

    @ Left Right and Centre (2,018) Says:
    November 27th, 2013 at 2:50 am

    I hate to say it, but 350 is nothing. I’ve come across 876, and was told that wasn’t the highest either. Most of them were for very minor stuff, and often one event can result in several charges.

    Perhaps the most pertinent point, and I think DG will be able to confirm this, is that often people who commit serious violent crimes has a history which starts off with petty stuff, progressing? to more serious stuff. This clearly indicates that somewhere we are failing to address the young people who ‘go off the rails’ – allowing them to become habitual and hardened criminals.

    What the answer to that is of course the multimillion dollar question (quite literally)

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