Prison reformers are welcoming a decision to scrap two prisoner rehabilitation programmes which appeared to make prisoners more likely to break the law again after their release.

Corrections Department chief Barry Matthews said the 70-hour "Straight Thinking" course and 100-hour MPRO (mixed programme) would be replaced by three new programmes geared to prisoners' different needs.

High-risk offenders would get an intensive 300-hour programme, medium-risk offenders a 120- to 150-hour programme and others would get shorter programmes.

"The new programmes will be supported by a relapse prevention programme for those who complete the programmes. Corrections will also trial the widespread delivery of a short motivational programme for short-serving prisoners," Mr Matthews said.

NZ First MP Ron Mark forced Mr Matthews to admit at a parliamentary hearing last month that prisoners who took either Straight Thinking or MPRO in 2003-04 reoffended at a higher rate in their first year out of jail than those who did not take the courses.

Wellington drug and alcohol counsellor Roger Brooking, an outspoken critic of the short courses, said the shift to a longer, more intensive programme was "a very significant move".

"It demonstrates to me that they are listening," he said.

Victoria University criminologist John Pratt said the change would help the higher-risk offenders but would do little for other prisoners "who will spend the vast majority of their time doing nothing whatsoever".

Meanwhile the Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Rosslyn Noonan, has spoken out in support of better literacy education and health care for prisoners.