The 'compassionate' way Kelvin Davis slashed New Zealand's prison population

The Minister of Corrections says being "compassionate and kind" was key to cutting the prison population after years of a lack of political will to help some of Aotearoa's most vulnerable.

Speaking to Mihingarangi Forbes on The Hui on Sunday, Minister Kelvin Davis claimed a massive decrease of nearly 1000 people in the prison population could be attributed to putting more staff into the right areas within the system.

Ms Davis said literacy and writing issues - including alleged offenders struggling to fill in bail submission forms or not being able to contact their family for support because they couldn't read or write - was contributing to a skyrocketing remand population.

"You couldn't fill in a form so the judge had no option but to remand you in custody," said Mr Davis.

He said by helping those people struggling with what most people would consider simple tasks was pivotal.

"People thought it couldn't be done... We've started to clear the arteries of the corrections system," he said.

Mr Davis said last Thursday the prison population was 9877 - down from 10,400 when he first became Corrections Minister last October, and a high of roughly 10,800 in March.

Forbes asked why the changes hadn't been made before now, especially when each prisoner costs the taxpayer approximately $100,000 a year.

"There wasn't the political will for there to be changes. No one thought it was possible," Mr Davis answered.

But the Minister couldn't provide Forbes with an answer over whether there would be a separate Maori Corrections Budget next year, with specific targeted programmes to help Maori offenders.

He said he was working on a Maori strategy, which would eventually hopefully lead to programmes with specific costs, as "everything I do in Corrections is targeted at our Maori population".

That includes instructing Corrections to form relationships with "every iwi where there is a prison on their place".

"I'll sleep even better when there is no Maori in prison".