The New Zealand Prison System - Effective or Flawed?

Categories: Moral

Hypothesis: I postulate that the New Zealand prison system is not very good when it is compared to other countries such as Costa Rica, Columbia and the Netherlands. In New Zealand, our government has their ideas surrounding imprisonment set on rehabilitation as opposed to retribution.

I think that while comparing New Zealand's prisons to other countries, we have too soft of laws regarding our prisons and that maybe we need to change the ways of how we portray our prisons to overall make New Zealand better.

I predict, for my second question that Retribution will be and is more effective rather than rehabilitation. For my final question. I believe that there could be many ways to help decrease recidivism such as going through a period of time where retribution is morally focused on and then moving onto rehabilitation to be able to make sure they get the help they need.

The topic I selected for my research was influenced by recently viewing the film “The Shawshank Redemption” directed by Frank Darabont.

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This film shows regard to the New Zealand prison system and its relation to retribution and rehabilitation.

The film features the prisoners of Shawshank being retributed and being punished for the crimes they committed. It also raises the issue of rehabilitation and its effects on the prisoners, this has made me think and relate it back to New Zealand and the many prisons it has. After seeing this film, I was intrigued by thinking and wanting to learn and understand more about it.

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I wanted to explore different viewpoints within society, therefore I chose the following three key questions. The first key question is; How are New Zealand Prisons compared to other countries; my second question of the research is which is more effective - Rehabilitation or Retribution and my final question was focused on how we can decrease recidivism in our society. I picked these questions because not only do I want to inspire my reader but myself in a way of the New Zealand prison systems - Effective or Flawed?

How do New Zealand's prison systems compare to other countries?

“In 2012, the Department of Corrections managed and operated 19 prisons within four regions of New Zealand having a capacity of 10,160 prisoners throughout the prisons.” Looking at these statistics, I can see that in New Zealand the overcrowding is nowhere near as bad as in Costa Rica or Columbia. Spring Hill Corrections Facility, Waikeria and Rimutaka are the three highest prisons holding just under 1,100 prisoners in each. Although researchers have found that the overall prison population is rising fast. In 2015 there has been a 20% increase in the prison population, this was largely due to an increase in the rate of conventions of serious violent and sexual offenders. Cells will either hold one or two inmates depending on their sentence, where they have their own bed/bunk to sleep. The prison spends only $5.60 on each prisoner for each of their three meals per day. Food diets are allowed for prisons who need it, inmates with medical diets can be provided if a medical officer recommends. Vegetarian and vegan meals can also be provided on request for inmates who need it. Staff have all access to inmates cells at all times. This includes staff doing searches when required, if a prisoner seems suspicious of holding a non-prohibited or unauthorised item in their cell, staff are allowed to do a search. Inmates must keep their cells tidy at all times for hygiene purposes. As well as their cells having to be clean, they also have to keep themselves clean. Inmates are provided with access to a working toilet and a hot water hand-washing sink with running water. Showers are also provided to inmates daily but officers around are allowed to prevent them from doing so if needed. To me I think that these prisoners do have a very good day to day life, yes they do not have the freedom that we as citizens in our society have but they could be living a lot worse off and could have none of the facilities that are given to them.

The San Rafael is one of Costa Rica’s prisons which currently holds 1252 people when originally it was only built to hold 704 inmates. This means that they are holding nearly double the number of people they should be. Nearly 35,000 people are in Costa Rica’s correctional system, including more than 14,000 who are incarcerated. Prior to this research assessment, I had not thought about the overpopulation in prisons.

“Just wait till night time,” says an inmate, sentenced 30 years - Fransico he said his name was. “That's when it gets bad.” The prisoners are forced to sleep on the ground with only what they call a mattress, a thin piece of foam that lays between them and the floor. Others find themselves wedged underneath the bottom of the bunks because of the lack of space they have on the floor.

“You can’t even walk through here at night, the mattress line up on the floor like a carpet” “Wall to wall,” said Ricardo Vargas, a 21-year-old inmate. Beyond the sleeping conditions, inmates complained that the overcrowding keeps them from seeing their families, not only this but the small food rations are not enough to fill each inmate. Rice, beans and chayote are served to them. I could only imagine that the toilets and showering blocks would not be very hygienic, as each cell block only have one toilet shared between 100-150 inmates living there. Hearing what these two inmates have to say about the prison that they have to call their home, it only makes me think about how inmates are treated in New Zealand. How they are not as overpopulated and overcrowded, how compared to smaller prisons they are treated and the requirements they get.

Another country who also does not have very good prison systems is Columbia. Prison cells are about as jam-packed as the ones in Costa Rica. In Columbia, there is an estimate of 120,688 inmates over the 138 prisons there. Like Costa Rica, the overpopulation is another big problem. Over 53% of the prison is overpopulated. Drugs were and still are another huge problem, “In 2016, estimates show that 30% of inmates consumed drugs” This shows me that not only are the security of the prisons were very good but that they also do not do anything to stop other inmates from handling and sharing the drugs around them. The food in Columbia consists of rice, soup, potatoes and processed meat. ‘Bongo’ is what most inmates call it. You can find that many of the prisoners also store food and rations of food their families bring them while on visitation which they then mix into their own food, bongo, that is provided for them so they do not get caught.

The Netherlands on the other hand is the complete opposite of overpopulated prisons like Costa Rica and Columbia. They are shutting down prisons and making other uses for them, as they do not have the purpose of using them anymore. Because of the drop in criminals in the closing prisons, it got so bad that the government had to import 240 inmates from Norway just to keep the facility's full. For every 100,000 people in the Netherlands, 61 are in prison. In New Zealand, it's 217. This is a lot more than we should expect in prison. Staff are complaining and protesting against what the government has done, by shutting down many of the Netherlands prisons it has caused the loss of 2000 jobs. Compared to New Zealand, the Netherland prisoners are also allowed three meals per day and have also got the dietary requirements if needed or requested by an officer or medical consultant. They are also allowed access to a health care worker, who they can go and see on request by writing a letter to them. In their cells, they are allowed access to working running water as well as heating or air-conditioning. Showers are allowed, some inmates having access to them in their cells, while all hygiene products are free of charge given by the prison.

I would say that while comparing New Zealand to a countries prison from Costa Rica or Columbia, New Zealand's system would be seen as a very good system and the better out of the three. While when you look at a country such as the Netherlands, we could be doing a lot better, in ways of our population in prisons and how we rehabilitate or retribute inmates. We could also think about if we are more effective when it comes to recidivism in keeping people out of our prisons.

What is more effective - Rehabilitation or Retribution?

Rehabilitation is the action of restoring someone to health or normal life, back to their original state by training and therapy after imprisonment, addiction or illness. Retribution is when the government or capital quarters of a prisons give punishment out inflicted on someone as vengeance for a wrong or criminal act.


Essentially you may think that prisons are just a big building that holds people who have committed crimes, who are deprived of their freedom and are ‘kept captive’. Whereas this may be true, there is also another purpose behind prisons and that is to rehabilitate them. Rehabilitation is another method for reducing re-offending prisoners. To work with them through therapy and treatment, trying to get them back to the state of mind they were in before they committed the crime they did, landing them in prison. By having rehabilitation as an option for inmates. It is said that “we hope that while an inmate in imprisoned they experience the horror of being locked up” hoping that it will leave a long-lasting impression on the prisoner, where they will not want to commit another crime again. This has made me think; if this really works, when prisoners are put into rehabilitation, is the end outcome positive and is it actually effective? There are many Rehabilitation programs that are provided to prisoners in New Zealand, But the question we all need to ask is, Do they actually work? Are they effective as we think they are? According to an interview done by the RNZ, a former gang member Fa’afete Taito serving more than four decades because of committing the crimes he did, aggravated robbery and drug dealing. He told the RNZ that rehabilitation programmes are a waste of time. “No matter how many rehabilitation programs you do in there, five minutes after you get out, if the boss rings you up and says ‘bro there's a couple of boys coming round and you're going to do something’, what, are you going to look at your relapse prevention program and say ‘well actually bro, I can’t do that? No, you’re going to do it” said Mr Taito. He also said that families and gangs should also be involved in rehabilitation programmes so that they can create an environment where he or she knows how to work alongside their partners and children. I think that this could be a way of improving rehabilitation programmes and making them more effective for the better.

While personally, I do think that some of the rehabilitation programs do work with some of the people, I also think that some of the programs are not focused on an individual as a person to rehabilitate them because it is morally fixed for people as a whole, in groups, where prisoners are thought to be fitted under programs that would do the best for them and could help them to be rehabilitated when really this could be the opposite. To me every person is different, no one is the same in any way, we all think differently, learn differently and have ways of doing things differently. So when programmes are focused on groups as a whole and not individual work, it could be less effective than you think.


In criminal law, retribution refers to an act or acts which were committed in order to satisfy personal vengeance. The purpose of retribution being to injure criminal offenders, ideally in relation to the crime they have offended to society, and so expiate them of guilt. Which is quite the opposite to rehabilitation. Prisons use retribution on the impulse to do harm to a person who has done so to you. When society chooses to execute retribution on criminals but means of fines in punishments. For example, cases of incarnation and death and these are the punishments because we hope that the victim is to feel confined to what is best for society as a whole.

Retribution is mainly recognised for the people whose crimes are more serious, as they should be punished more for what they did. It is best looked at for the offender's status as a moral agent, as when we introduce retribution to the offender we are asking that they take responsibility for what he or she has done. Rather than making up excuses and say that you didn't do anything wrong. For example, if you take person A, who has pickpocketed, they would get punishment A which is not as punishable as punishment B, where punishment B is for Person B, who is a robber that used force and then rapes his victims, he should get the proportionality more severe punishment. The idea is to be ‘proportionately’ towards the criminal and not ‘equivalence’. This makes sense to me in a way, I think that it is very different from the idea of seeing things ‘eye to eye’. So perhaps what is best and what really matters is that for the more serious crimes, they are treated to the proportionately. I also think that this way is more respectful towards humanity because it recognises what is done.

According to a 1949 essay, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.” The writer, A guy named Lewis Goes on to mention that the doctrine of rehabilitation-as-punishment, “Mercyful though it appears, it really means that each and every one of us, from the moment he or she breaks the law, they are deprived of the rights of a human being.” Rehabilitation deprives people of their own human rights. I am not a hundred percent sure that I agree with what he is trying to say but in parts, I do believe what he is saying is right.

In his essay, he further explains that by encouraging rehabilitation, we tend to abandon “The concept of the desert” This is the concept that recognises that justice exists only when people get what they deserve. As an example, Muslims and Catholics get the right to be allowed to practice their faith, being because they deserve religious freedom. In a similar way, it can be the same way for prisoners as justice requires punishment for the criminals because they should get what they deserve. This makes sense to me and I do agree with what Lewis is saying in his essay, however it could be that if we abide by this law of having set punishment for whichever crime you may have committed it could possibly end up with people who commit crimes already knowing what there going to get.

How we can decrease recidivism in our society

According to an article written by Dr Turner Nashe. The United States incarcerates a lot of people, as over 7.6 million people in America are currently incarcerated on probation, or on parole. While 650,000 inmates are released every year, a “National Institute of Justice Study” found that “Within one year of release, more than half (58.7%) of released prisoners are rearrested” “Within three years of release, two thirds (67.8%) of released prisoners are rearrested” and “Within five years of release, more than three quarters (76.6%) of released prisoners are rearrested.” I find these statistics to be large huge and eye-opening to realize just how many people are being rearrested after already coming from prison. It also makes me wonder to think about, is this really working? Are we doing all the right things? to prevent inmates from rearresting themselves and ending up back in prison.

The three most challenging ways of re-entries are finding a place to stay/live in, finding help for medical care for drug treatment and the third way is employment. Employment is a big issue as these people do not have the skills to help get employed. Technology is a big reason that can seem foreign towards them because in our world today, everything is changing, such as technology. They do not know how to work computers to search for jobs so this can be very challenging. An example I was reading from a website was, “When I was working for a jail system, there was an inmate who was homeless and every winter season would intentionally get arrested for a petty crime, would get locked up and then would not (or could not) post bail just so he could have ‘three hots and cot’ (three hot meals and a bed to sleep in)” I can completely understand why this man is doing what he did. Because he does not have anywhere else to go, he does not have a house to live in, so when I come wintertime he would be out in the freezing cold.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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The New Zealand Prison System - Effective or Flawed?. (2020, Nov 03). Retrieved from

The New Zealand Prison System - Effective or Flawed? essay
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