Just under 7000 criminals, or 9.7 per cent, sentenced to imprisonment in past year.
Conviction rates are the lowest they have been in over three decades, figures released by Statistics New Zealand show.
Released yesterday, the statistics show 70,314 adult criminals were sentenced in the year ending June 30.
That is the lowest number in the 34 years for which statistics are available.
Of the criminals who were sentenced in the past year, 31.6 per cent were ordered to pay a fine and 25.9 per cent were sentenced to community work.
Just under 7000 criminals, or 9.7 per cent, were sentenced to imprisonment, with just 40 offenders receiving life terms. Seven were sentenced to preventive detention.
Crime rates in New Zealand, as in many Western nations, had been dropping for many years, acting general manager for the Ministry of Justice Esther King said.
She said that at March 31 this year, the total crime rate was down by 16 per cent since 2011.
"The number of people charged in New Zealand courts is at the lowest level since our current statistics began in 1980/81.
"The justice sector, the police, Ministry of Justice and Department of Corrections are working together to reduce crime and offending."
Ms King said programmes such as the Hutt Valley Innovation Project had contributed to a significant reduction in crime in the area. The project had now been rolled out to the East Coast, Papakura and Hamilton, she added.
Ms King said the justice sector had also set Better Public Services (BPS) targets to help reduce crime.
BPS targets used June 2011 crime levels as a baseline and aimed for a 15 per cent reduction in total crime, and a 25 per cent reduction in youth crime, by 2017. However a victims support group said these figures did not necessarily reflect a drop in crime.
National spokeswoman for the Sensible Sentencing Trust Ruth Money said these figures came as no surprise.
"There are so many plea bargains and measures in place to avoid convictions and sentencing. That is just the way that the system manipulates the crime rate tied to sentencing."
Ms Money said offenders were often charged with numerous crimes, some of which were dropped by the Crown to lower sentencing rates.
She said she believed these measures allowed the justice sector to "report that the crime rate and prison rate is coming down".