Corrections marks 130 years of probation

  • Judith Collins

New Zealand was the first country in the world to introduce probation with the passing of the First Offenders’ Probation Act 130 years ago today, on 9 August 1886, Corrections Minister, Judith Collins 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 today.

“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,” says Ms Collins.

“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.”

Under the First Offenders’ Probation Act, probation officers were required to “carefully inquire” into the character and offences of “every person arrested for any first offence” to determine if they were reasonably expected to “reform without imprisonment” and to keep a “full record” of the results of their investigations.

If they were satisfied that it was in the best interests of the public and the offender, probation officers had a “special duty” to recommend probation to the courts.

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.

They manage a range of sentences and orders including parole, home detention, community work, intensive supervision, and GPS monitoring.