The country's new Corrections Minister says some of her views on law and order have changed since she saw the importance of rehabilitation programmes at her local prison.

One of the surprises of Prime Minister Bill English's Cabinet reshuffle was handing the challenging and important Corrections portfolio from Judith Collins to Taupo MP Louise Upston.

Upston told the Herald that the social investment work - to be headed by Justice Minister Amy Adams - would be central to work in the Corrections portfolio. That meant investing in rehabilitation and other programmes to try and cut reoffending rates.

"If you think about social investment - this is the opportunity to interrupt and really break that cycle, which is something I'm really excited about.

Advertisement

"We will continue to have a focus on making sure our communities are safe. But also, our continued focus will be on making sure that where taxpayers money is spent, it is spent wisely and getting the outcomes that people expect. The outcome in this area is around reoffending rates. It is complex, it is challenging, and I'm looking forward to it."

Upston cited improving public safety as one of her main priorities when delivering her maiden speech to Parliament in December of 2008.

Referring to a Sensible Sentencing Trust rally in her electorate that was organised after the murder of Karen Aim, the new MP said tougher bail and sentencing laws were needed, and criticised Labour for presiding over a Government that "puts criminals ahead of victims".

She also said more support was needed for Police, who were repaid with "hounding in the media, launching immediate inquiries and subjecting them to intense scrutiny".

"Let us not be mistaken - the police are good, the criminals are bad. It is as simple as that," Upston said in her speech.

Today, she said her experience as an MP meant some of her views on law and order had changed.

"And some of that has been, actually, what I have seen in Tongariro [prison]. And one of the real standouts for me was a visit to the Maori Focus Unit and to, first of all, see the enormous dedication of the Corrections staff...but also then in the discussions with the inmates for them to see they had quite a different future as a result of the changes that we were making.

"Yep, I do think if someone has done a crime, they do the time. But we also need to make sure that when they come out that they are better than when they went in, and more importantly they have greater opportunities for them and their families."

Advertisement

Upston has faced her share of controversy during her time as Minister for Women, with opposition parties calling on her to make more public statements during the Chiefs stripper controversy.

Corrections will bring more heat and profile. Sam Lotu-Iiga, who will not contest next year's election, lost the portfolio after "fight club" controversy at Mt Eden prison.

Announcing his reshuffle on Sunday, English said Upston was hardworking and diligent.

"She's had to deal with some tricky issues as many ministers have. But we have confidence in her. There have been a number of changes in the portfolio.

"And particularly the transparency of the [prison] inspection processes, which we are bringing in, I think is going to mean that issues that are there are dealt with sooner, more effectively. So there have been lessons learnt from the last time around about making sure that all the issues in our prisons are there to be seen and to be dealt with."

Upston said she thought her appointment reflected the work she had done as Land Information Minister, including on the Overseas Investment Office.

"If I look at my other portfolios - Associate Education and Associate Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment - the Prime Minister signalled to me that he wants me to continue my focus on trades training, which links back very nicely to Corrections."

In October, the Government announced plans to cope with a booming prisoner population including a 1500-bed prison on the current Waikeria Prison site in Waikato.

Those changes will hit the Government's books by an extra $2.5 billion over about five years.