7 Feb 2024

Corrections facing recruitment and retention challenges

From Checkpoint, 6:06 pm on 7 February 2024

Getting and keeping staff is one of Corrections' biggest challenges - in the face of a rising prison population, including more violent extremist inmates.

The department has launched yet another recruitment campaign.

A briefing to the new minister says Corrections is experiencing significant recruitment and retention challenges.

On top of that the National government's tough-on-crime policy is expected to increase the muster further.

Corrections chief custodial officer Neil Beales told Checkpoint it was not about finding enough people to do the job, it was about finding the right people.

"We're very strict about the criteria and the quality of the person that we take ... we're not going to just take anybody.

"But we're also recruiting and a very competitive market as well, and it has been competitive for at least the last 18 months to two years. There's still a long way to go, but we're making positive inroads into that."

Corrections needs 330 prison officers and about 57 nurses.

The attrition rate across all of Corrections staff is sitting at 13% with a rate of 13.5% for Corrections officers.

Since October 2022, Beales said Corrections had recruited 1097 prison officers.

He hoped the new campaign, which focused on the realities of the job, would help drive more of the right people to the vacancies.

"We do very, very difficult, sometimes dangerous job, it is a rewarding job, but we need to be real with people and say some of the people that we work with can be quite challenging, some of them can be quite mentally ill, some of them got alcohol or drugs.

"You need to be prepared for the world that you're walking into, and if, if we don't do that, we're not being fair to the people, and then we'll see a higher attrition rate, right?"

The starting salary for a prison officer is $65,000, he said, adding that "the job that we do will always deserve more".

"If I had it my way, if it was a personal decision up to me, of course, we'll be paying our staff more."

He could not say how many international recruits were brought on board.

"We have a lot of interest from the islands, from Europe, we even have some interest from people in Australia, although they are competing with us in the same market, but I don't believe we are running at this moment in time a full-on recruitment abroad."

Delivering better outcomes for Māori

Beales said it was still Corrections' strategy to focus on doing more for the "significant" number of Māori inmates.

"Over half of our population and even more so in the female population identify as Māori, if we can get those numbers down that's better for everybody."

He did not have the stats on how many Māori frontline staff had been recruited.