The number of people being convicted in New Zealand courts is steadily rising but the number of prison sentences being dished out has dropped slightly.
A victims' lobby group says the statistics are a direct result of the Sentencing Act 2002, which states that judges must "impose the least restrictive outcome that is appropriate in the circumstances".
Convictions increased by 26 per cent between 2002 and 2007, according to a Ministry of Justice report released yesterday.
The figure followed a downward trend between 1998 and 2002.
The ministry report - which summarises prosecution, conviction and sentencing trends from 1998 to 2007 - showed monetary sentences were the most common penalty imposed on offenders each year, comprising almost half of all sentences.
Between 1998 and 2003, those cases increased from 47 per cent to 51 per cent of the total. From 2004 to 2007, the number of cases ending in monetary penalties rose 13 per cent, but the percentage of the total dipped to 47 per cent.
Community work was the next most common sentence, with a rise of 17 per cent between 2005 and 2007.
The number of cases that resulted in a conviction and discharge increased between 1998 and 2003, from 5 per cent to 7 per cent. Between 2004 and 2007, the rise was about 11 per cent.
The number of cases resulting in imprisonment declined by 5 per cent between 1998 and 2001.
It rose by 9 per cent until 2003 but by 2007 decreased by 1 per cent.
Throughout the decade, most convictions were for traffic offences.
But last year the highest number of convictions for the decade was recorded for violent offences, which rose by 29 per cent since 2002.
The report says the Sentencing Act 2002 and the Parole Act 2002, which replaced the Criminal Justice Act 1985, will have affected data.
The sentences of periodic detention, community service and community programme were abolished and the sentence of community work introduced.
Three new types of sentence were introduced in 2007: home detention, community detention and intensive supervision.
Although the sentences were not introduced until October last year, a small number of cases received them in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Some cases decided during those years had one of the new sentences imposed following either a review or an appeal in 2007.
Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar said as a result of the Sentencing Act some of the worst offenders got longer sentences but overall sentences got shorter.
He said the public couldn't just "roll over" but had to stand up and express their alarm, which would start to drive a political change.
"Our opponents will say prison doesn't work. We say prison is just bricks and water; what's not working is our prison policy.
"We've become so soft in prison that it's simply a place that the offenders are quite happy to line up and go back to."By Alanah Eriksen @AlanahEriksen Email Alanah, Alanah May Eriksen