For the first time since the Depression, the prison population has shown a sustained drop – and is on track to tumble further.
In the past decade the prison population grew by 45.6 per cent – but the latest annual Justice Sector Forecast predicts that in the next 10 years it will fall by 6.2 per cent.
The decrease is being attributed to a falling crime rate and to new police tactics that have seen fewer people brought before the courts.
Corrections Department spokesman Brendan Anstiss said: "There are ups and down in the forecast each year and each month, but in modern history this is the first sustained drop.
"It's a big change – when you see that we've been growing for 80-odd years and now it's stabilising and now ... predicting a drop."
And the effects aren't just being felt at the bread and water end of the justice system; read on:
The latest forecast also says the number of prosecutions, for both summary and committal cases, will decrease over the next decade, as fewer people enter the court system.
Last month, Wellington District Court moved to change its courtroom timetables after a drop in cases meant the main judges' list would fail to use the whole day allotted to it.
Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Bush said part of the drop in cases could be attributed to a more pro-active approach to stopping crime before it happened and the introduction of the "alternative resolution initiative".
Alternative resolution allows police to use their discretion and give people warnings or diversion when they face low-level charges, such as breaches of liquor bans or disorderly behaviour, if deemed appropriate.
"We're actually making more arrests but we're putting less people in front of the courts. It's the opposite of us going soft – we're just dealing with people in different and more effective ways."
The resolution process meant staff could spend more time on the street, instead of preparing prosecution files and appearing in court for very low-level crimes, Mr Bush said.
"It also means for young and first-time offenders that we can do something other than putting them straight on to the justice treadmill which can lead them right to a life of crime."
We will follow this trend with a deal of interest. But in the meantime, well done to Bill English for his prophetic powers. Maybe we should drop him a note and ask his whether we should fix or float our mortgage!