A rising prison population - which topped 10,000 late last year - has authorities looking for hundreds of new corrections officers.
More than 2,400 officers oversee the country's prisoners currently behind bars, but pressure on them is coming from a number of directions:
• More prisoners are serving longer sentences for serious crimes
• A growing number of remand prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing are being held in custody
• The Mt Eden Corrections Facility in Auckland is being transferred back to a public-operated prison
The Government has recently approved plans for an increase in overall prison capacity by 1800 beds while even greater officer numbers are likely by 2021 when construction of the recently approved 1500-bed expansion at Waikeria Prison near Te Awamutu is completed.
The Department of Corrections is casting its net throughout New Zealand and as far afield as Australia and the UK in its search for the right people.
Andy Langley, seconded to manage the programme from his position as director of Manawatu Prison and soon to take up the role of director at Auckland Prison at Paremoremo, says the department's recruitment processes in the past have been "a bit under the radar.
"We have a turnover each year of about 200 officers and generally speaking it has not been difficult to find new people. But we don't have the same profile as the police for example, so we're trying to raise this in order to get to people who, while they have the skills for the job, have not necessarily been alert to it."
Langley agrees there is a perception the job is dangerous. Over a third of all prisoners are serving sentences for violent crimes - with 50 per cent of those involving family violence - but he believes the perception of violence outweighs the reality.
"Officers are taught the skills to handle potentially violent situations - how to communicate with prisoners, how to de-escalate tensions. In a well-run prison outbreaks of violence are remarkably low."
Department figures show the number of serious assaults on prison staff have fallen dramatically in the last 20 years. From a high of 90 assaults in 1998, the number dropped to 17 in the 2016 financial year (the number of assaults by prisoners on other prisoners was around 45 in the 2016 financial year, about the same as 1998 levels).
Since 2011 the number of people re-offending after completing a sentence has decreased by 25 per cent. Corrections officers, although not directly involved in rehabilitation programmes, have an important part to play because they come face-to-face with prisoners every day and are considered role models.
"The people we need to recruit don't have to be big or small, male or female, it doesn't matter. What they do need is good communication skills, be calm under pressure and have a belief people can change; their priorities are to motivate and engage with prisoners," Langley says.
This is often achieved over time and through many "small" conversations.
"Natural banter can open the door or it might be a chat at breakfast - there are many opportunities for officers to associate and show compassion. This is always better one-on-one and can be as simple as a comment like 'you don't want this life for your son, do you?"
Langley says prisoners convicted of domestic violence for example, are encouraged to attend courses like the family violence programme introduced in some prisons last year or, like the case of a high-risk prisoner convicted of drug trafficking, they are encouraged to start thinking about what they are doing with their lives.
"This prisoner was given training in fork lift driving and gained national certificates in engineering, wood manufacturing, hospitality and cookery. Released 18 months ago he now works fulltime as a supervisor of the shop blasting and spray painting division of a major engineering company and has not re-offended."
During his time at Manawatu Prison a number of ex-prisoners were placed in fulltime jobs in the Horowhenua area, an achievement he says is replicated across the country.
"There is also an increasing emphasis on getting prisoners' families involved," says Langley. "If a prisoner has completed a course, we invite his family to see him graduate; we find this has a big impact on a prisoner's self esteem and rehabilitation."
Langley, who has been working in the industry for nearly 30 years both in the UK and New Zealand, says while he has seen "chaos" and met "hardened and notorious" criminals, he is always amazed at the good relationships that do occur.
"I constantly take my hat off to the work officers do," he says.
"I originally started out as an apprentice plastics technician but became a prison officer because I wanted to make a difference. The job gets into your blood, it's interesting, exciting and there's nothing quite like it."
A total of 2,454 corrections officers are currently employed in 17 prisons. Overall around 8,000 people work for Corrections, both in prisons and more than 150 other sites. As well as prisoners, around 30,000 people are serving community-based sentences.
If you want to know more about being a Corrections Officer go to frontlinejobs.co.nz