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Goff Address to NZ Parole Board Conference


Phil Goff Speech to New Zealand Parole Board Conference

Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you this morning.

The new parole structure is a key component of the Government’s sentencing and parole reforms. Your decision-making is critical to the success of those reforms. Sound and credible parole decisions that are seen to provide protection for the community, are needed to give the community confidence about the sentencing and release of inmates.

The New Zealand Parole Board has been operating since 30 June 2002 as a result of the passage of the Parole Act 2002.

With more than 6 months in operation, this meeting provides an important opportunity for you to consider your progress and any difficulties encountered under the new Act. I will be interested to hear the outcome of your discussions.

Background

There were a number of problems with the previous parole decision-making structure:

It was very fragmented, comprising the Parole Board and 17 District Prisons Boards, each of which was statutorily independent and administered locally.

There was an uneven distribution of the workload and an uneven distribution of the quality and quantity of administrative support.

There were insufficient safeguards, with no appeal procedure for inmates dissatisfied with Board decisions.

The size of the decision-making groups was inefficient.

The membership of Department of Corrections officials on the Boards detracted from any view of the Boards as independent administrative bodies.

Without induction and training, it was difficult for community members to make an effective contribution to decision-making.

A number of underlying trends or developments also made the existing structure untenable in the long term.

The workload of the Boards was increasing in terms of volume and complexity, making increasing demands on part-time Board members

There was a need for Board members with the ability and training necessary to deal with the increasingly sophisticated information being presented to them

In changing the legislation I was looking for significant benefits for the new parole decision-making structure in four principal areas:

Firstly I wanted greater emphasis on the offender’s risk to the community.

The parole system now has a clearer focus, namely to contribute to public safety.

When making decisions relating to the release of an offender, the legislation makes it clear that the paramount consideration for the Board in every case is the safety of the community.

The consideration of the safety of the community is reinforced by the new parole test which is focused on a single factor. The Board may only give a direction that an offender be released on parole if it is satisfied that the offender will not pose an undue risk to the safety of the community or any person or class of persons.

In assessing “undue risk” the Board must consider both the likelihood of further offending, and the nature and seriousness of any likely offending.

The Department of Corrections has been assisting with the Board’s structured decision-making processes, involving the use of recidivism risk factors, and the categorisation of the inmate’s risk of serious re-offending. This has introduced a much more rigorous and objective assessment of risk.

Secondly, I was looking for greater professionalism.

The New Zealand Parole Board has a greater emphasis on professionalism than the previous structure.

Selection systems ensure that suitably qualified persons are appointed as Board members.

A member cannot be appointed unless the Attorney General is satisfied that he or she has:

knowledge or understanding of the criminal justice system; the ability to make a balanced and reasonable assessment of the risk an offender may present to the community when released; the ability to operate effectively with people from a range of cultures; sensitivity to, and understanding of, the impact of crime on victims.

Board members are to be provided with appropriate induction and training necessary to enable them to perform their functions efficiently and effectively.

Thirdly, better and more transparent processes for making decisions were needed.

The parole authority is more visible and operates more openly, so there is greater accountability.

Decisions can be made and hearings conducted in a more consistent manner.

Decisions must be in writing and include reasons for those decisions.

The new structure includes review and appeal procedures for offenders.

A national structure allows for better management of workloads, the promulgation of national policies and better dissemination of information.

The Government’s expectation is that, in comparison with the previous structure, the Board will be

more proactive in explaining and promoting its role, and

more open in providing information about decisions, while maintaining an appropriate level of confidentiality.

The Board has a responsibility to develop policies on how to discharge its functions regarding the release of offenders (including release to home detention), setting conditions of release, making postponement orders, and determining the recall of offenders.

The Parole Act has established the framework for the Board but there is considerable scope for the Board to develop policies and procedures concerning the manner in which it will carry out its functions, in conjunction with the Department of Corrections

Conferences like this are useful for such an exercise.

Finally, the community and government were looking for new emphasis on the views of victims.

The guiding principles in the legislation state that the rights of victims must be upheld and victims’ submissions are to be given due weight.

Victims of serious offences have a number of rights relating to the Board’s processes once they have registered with the victim notification system.

All reasonable steps must be taken to give every victim in this group notice of any hearing involving the offender in their case. There are rights to make submissions, as with all victims, and rights of attendance at hearings.

Whether or not they have made a submission or appeared before the Board, these victims must be advised of the outcome of the hearing. This includes any release or detention conditions applying to the offender that are of personal relevance to the victim or his or her family, or that address the victim’s submissions.

The Victims’ Rights Act that came into force in mid-December last year.

It has widened the category of victims who have specific rights relating to New Zealand Parole Board processes once they have registered with the victim notification system. It now includes those victims who have reasonable ongoing fears for their safety or the safety of one or more members of their immediate family.

The Victims’ Rights Act also inserted some new sections in the Parole Act, essentially to clarify the rights of victims other than those covered by the victim notification system.

The Parole Act now provides that all victims may make submissions in writing to the Board, and may, with the leave of the Board, have an interview with a panel member, or make an oral submission to an attended hearing. Victims who have exercised these rights are to be advised of decisions to which they contributed.

I am confident that the new system will achieve and is achieving its objectives but practice always throws up new issues and suggests improvements which may still be needed. I look forward to hearing about your deliberations on these matters.

I wish you a successful conference.


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