Police look to take fewer people into remand

Police said they want to reduce the number of people locked up in remand. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly.

Police are moving to cut the number of people remanded in custody, while acknowledging this will mean more offenders in the community.

Cutting the soaring remand rate has become one of the very top priorities of police and the entire criminal justice system.

A briefing to the government shows police began months ago looking for "immediate or short-term" ways to cut back on remand. The flipside was that this would create more work for them, they told the former police minister.

"Fewer people on remand necessarily means more perpetrators remaining in the community, with greater demand on police response to risk escalation or incidents."

Police would have a key role in managing the risks "when a reduction in custodial remand is realised", they said in March.

The efforts to cut remand would directly impact on core police services to the public, they added elsewhere.

This same briefing said rising demands overall posed the threat of "critical service failures" unless police overhauled how they operate.

"Increased calls for service have created unsustainable demand pressures on frontline police, who are not being enabled to deliver the service performance and outcomes that New Zealanders expect, due to an outdated operating model, inconsistent systems and processes, and issues of timeliness and variable quality with case management."

Prison fencing at Paremoremo.Cutting the soaring rate at which people are locked up on remand has become one of the top priorities of police. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly.

Police have laid out a $44m plan for a "full refresh" to improve investigations, the quality of evidence, how police disclose evidence in courts and to digitise processes.

They are emptying the Proceeds of Crime Fund to pay for it; other projects that might have been funded have been put on hold.

Dubbed Reframe, one of its three aims over the next three years was to cut back on remand.

If remand was not cut back, prisons were headed towards being almost half full of people on remand in a few years (rising from 35 percent in 2020, to 44 percent now, to 48 percent in 2032), according to Ministry of Justice forecasts.

Instead of 3500 people awaiting trial, there would be 4700. Costs to the Crown would similarly mount. The underlying remand rate would jump from 15 per cent now to 19 per cent.

It was a dilemma not just for police, but for the incoming National-ACT government.

Bail got harder to get under the previous National-led government. If a person was not bailed at their first hearing, it took on average 3.6 more court 'events' before they got bail, and they waited on average 43 days locked up, documents said.

But part of the anti-remand efforts going on now was a bail support service that makes it "likelier" a defendant who uses it will get bail.

National Party MP Mark Mitchell
Mark Mitchell. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver.

National Party police spokesperson Mark Mitchell, asked by RNZ if he supported the police goal of cutting time spent on remand, said through a spokesperson: "We have neither seen the documents to understand the context, nor have we formed a government. We decline to comment."

An ACT Party spokesperson said: "Matters such as this will need to be dealt with by the incoming government, in particular the incoming police minister.

"A new government will outline their own policy directives and objectives and police will need to work to attain those. With negotiations ongoing we cannot comment on this approach."

The bail support service in certain courts helped defendants apply for bail and adhere to bail conditions.

People who used these were "likelier to achieve bail and less likely to breach their conditions or re-offend", the Justice Ministry said.

Read the full Ministry of Justice report here.

Police told former Police Minister Ginny Andersen that long remand times were one of four significant issues threatening the "failure of our criminal justice system", because people were "losing the opportunity for support and rehabilitation that could reduce offending".

One of National's election policies was to improve rehab services for people on remand.

The other three significant issues were inequitable justice for Māori and other minorities, victims being retraumatised by the system, and inconsistent service in rural places, police told the minister.

Reframe would help "ensure that the right people are being charged", and so lead to fewer court adjournments and earlier guilty pleas, they said.

Reframe Te Tarai Hou had not been taken fully into account in prison forecasts, the Justice Ministry said; nor had the courts' Criminal Process and Improvement Programme aimed at cutting out "unnecessary" hearings.

The documents made clear time was of the essence. Court delays posed the threats of:

  • witnesses' memories fading, "increasing the likelihood of cases collapsing"
  • defendants could manipulate the system to seek a lesser penalty, seek a stay or "wear down the complainant or witnesses"
  • additional costs to Crown from being on remand longer.

As for remand, there was a "strong association between being on remand and incidents of disorder within prison", the Corrections Department said.

-Phil Pennington/RNZ.

You may also like....


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to make a comment.