New Zealand has a nationwide network of 18 prisons. The prison population peaked at 10,820 prisoners in March 2018 and now sits at around 8,400 (in June 2021). Some prisons specialise in the management of specific populations (such as women) or offer particular rehabilitative programmes. Transferring people between prisons is a relatively common activity for the Department of Corrections.
In 2020, 7,697 inter-prison transfers took place (with some individuals being transferred between prisons more than once). Around half of these transfers were to enable prisoners to access programmes, to move prisoners to their home regions for release, and to move prisoners to safeguard their wellbeing. In the same year, 28% of transfers were made to manage prison population pressure and 22% of transfers were for court appearances.
While transferring prisoners is necessary within the current prison network, it is not without its challenges. Transfers can disrupt the lives of prisoners and their support networks, as well as incurring fiscal costs for Corrections. We understand the approximate cost for inter-prison transfers in 2020 was $1.8 million. This thematic report examines the rationale and challenges associated with prisoner movements. It also provides insight into the impacts of movements on prisoners and their family and whānau.