New Zealand Law Society - Probation in NZ turns 130

Probation in NZ turns 130

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New Zealand has marked 130 years since the passage of the First Offenders' Probation Act 1886 on 9 August 1886.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins says New Zealand was the first country in the world to introduce probation. 

She says the Act allowed courts to impose non-custodial sentences for first-time offenders and it established the roles and responsibilities of probation officers, setting out the duties and powers that still apply.

"The First Offenders' Probation  Act was described as a substantial reform in the administration of criminal law and gave people who had offended a chance at rehabilitation," Ms Collins says.

"The underlying purpose of the probation system has not changed. Today's probation officers are, like their predecessors, dedicated to holding offenders to account, reducing their likelihood of re-offending and minimising their risk of harm to others."

A later Act allowed the courts discretion to grant probation in all cases, not just "first time" offenders.

The first probation officers were unpaid – and initially, gaolers and police officers took on the role. In 1949 there were seven full-time probation officers and by 1964 there were 90.

Today, Corrections has around 1100 full-time paid probation officers working with around 30,000 offenders in the community at any one time.