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Corrections Minister responds to Ron Mark claims

21 November 2003 Media Statement

Corrections Minister responds to Ron Mark claims


The Corrections Minister Paul Swain has released the following correspondence to the New Zealand First MP Ron Mark, in response to documents tabled in Parliament and a letter received from Mr Mark.

Ron Mark
New Zealand First
Parliament Buildings
WELLINGTON
Dear Mr Mark
I am writing in response to your letter dated 13 November 2003. Attached to your letter was a copy of an anonymous letter, received by your office, in which serious allegations were made relating to the death of an offender who was on home detention.

The letter does not provide any information about the identity of the offender who died, or the time, date or place the death occurred. There is no information as to the identity of the person who wrote the letter so it has not been possible to obtain any evidence to corroborate the claims made in the letter. The Community Probation Service has nevertheless identified one occurrence in which an offender on home detention died as a resulted of a suspected overdose of drugs.

No attempt has been made to identify the writer of the letter as a result of the comments in the first paragraph of the letter, namely, “…I cannot supply my own details or that of other parties involved (some who remain close neighbours and whanau)…I am aware that you could track down the events, the persons involved but I wish this information to remain confidential and will not take part in any further inquiries that may arise.”

Without any further information to support the claims in the letter, and in the absence of co-operation from the letter writer, all that the Department has been able to do is to review the information it has in relation to the known offender who may be the person referred to in the letter sent to you.

The Community Probation Service has conducted a review of the case and reports the following:

- The offender had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment in excess of two years. He was released onto home detention by the New Zealand Parole Board on 23 December 2002.

- The home detention sentence was well managed. The case notes are complete and up to date, and the actions recorded in them meet with Departmental requirements for management of home detention sentences.

- The offender complied with all his sentence conditions. He provided no reason to be prosecuted for a breach of any of the conditions. He received one warning for leaving work ten minutes early on one occasion. Apart from that one occasion he was never absent from his residence without the permission of his Probation Officer.

- The offender was in employment and his employer reported that he was hardworking and reliable. He had visits from the Probation Officer at work as well as at home.

- He had reached the stage where he was being visited once a week, the last of which occurred just prior to his death.

It is unfortunate that a person has died. However, given the Probation Officer had no information that would have prevented this accident occurring, and the sentence was well managed according to Departmental procedures, it is difficult to see what more could have been done. At no stage did any neighbours of the offender make any allegations to the Probation Officer or the Police.

Please find on the following pages a schedule that responds to the allegations made in the anonymous letter received by you. It includes the results of discussions the Community Probation Service has had with the Police.

I trust you are now reassured that, in respect of the offender known to the Department, the sentence of home detention was managed in a correct manner and that the cause of death of the offender was not contributed to in any way by anything done or not done by the Community Probation Service.

The General Manager Probation and Offender Services has forwarded a copy of the anonymous letter to the Police in case it assists with their investigation into the death of the offender. In addition, the General Manager has informed me that should there be any findings from the Coroner’s inquest that identifies issues with the sentence management of this offender, then these will be investigated.


Yours sincerely
Hon Paul Swain
Minister of Corrections


Allegation 1: offender ineligible for home detention after long prison sentence and neighbours not informed of the offenders presence.

The offender was eligible for home detention. An offender sentenced to imprisonment for a period in excess of two years is entitled to apply to be released on home detention for the three months immediately prior to the date on which he or she becomes eligible for parole. The application is heard and determined by the New Zealand Parole Board.

There is no provision in the Parole Act 2002 that requires any person, other than a registered victim of the offender and the Police, to be informed of the release of an offender onto home detention. The provision of such information to any other person would be likely to constitute a breach of the offender’s privacy.

Allegation 2 – gang members and others visiting at all hours of the day and night. Lights on at all hours of the night.

This offender had a special condition not to associate with people who had criminal convictions or gang members.

The Probation Officer did not observe or receive any allegations or information about visits from gang members. The Probation Officer was not at the residence all the time, or at night time, so it is possible this could have been occurring. This is not a condition that Probation Officers can easily monitor, when they see the offender once a week. It is, however one that can be acted upon if they get information, which sometimes comes from Police. Police did not report anything to the Probation Officer about any concerns in this respect.

There was no restriction, other than that described above, on who could visit, how many times or when they could visit. There was nothing that prohibited the offender from staying up all night or leaving his lights on all night if he chose to do so.

After the death the offenders sponsor told the Probation Officer that just in that last week there had been some visits by people who might have been bringing drugs. The sponsor did not report this until after the death.

Allegation 3:-unlimited freedom to cook ‘medicine’ (sic) in the flat

The process of ‘cooking’ drugs produces some very clear and observable tell-tale signs. At no time, during his visits to the offender’s house, did the Probation Officer observe anything to indicate that drugs were being manufactured on the premises.
In addition, the Police report that their investigation into this death by suspected drug overdose has failed to disclose any evidence that drugs were being manufactured at the house during the time the offender was living there.

Allegation 4: danger to neighbours posed by offenders using P.

At no time during the period that the offender was on home detention, did the Probation Officer have any cause to suspect that anyone at the house was using P. Had such information come to hand the Police would have been informed immediately and action commenced to have the offender returned to prison.

Allegation 5: ineffective monitoring of the offender’s activities

Home Detention is managed according to the conditions set by the Parole Board. There is a strong focus on controlling the movements of the offender. It worked successfully on this occasion. An offender on home detention may only leave the premises for purposes that are approved in advance by the supervising Probation Officer. The offender did not leave the premises except on the basis of an approved absence.

While an offender on home detention is electronically monitored and does have regular contact with a Probation Officer, there is no supervisor present 24 hours a day. The Department is not able to control visitors or mail arriving at the premises.

If there is reason for suspicions about the type of visitors or about drug use or manufacture, the Department will arrange for the Police to assist with the monitoring of the activities at the premises. It is often the Police who alert the Department to such issues.

Police are aware of every home detainee and their addresses. In accordance with Section 54 of the Parole Act 2002, the Police are informed when an offender starts home detention. A Service Level Agreement exists between the Department of Corrections and the New Zealand Police that clearly defines this cooperation. The Community Probation Service is required to inform local Police of a home detention application during preparation of the home detention report for the New Zealand Parole Board.
In addition, the New Zealand Parole Board decisions on approved applications for home detention are automatically populated through the Department’s computer system to the Police database.

Allegation 6: public access to pills and medicine at pharmacies

There was no condition imposed on the offender by the New Zealand Parole Board that prevented him from visiting a pharmacy in the same manner as any member of the public.

Allegation 8 : manufacturing and taking drugs at his residence.

This offender had no history of drug usage or any convictions for drug related activities. The Probation Officer reports that in his visits to the offender’s home, the last of which occurred just prior to the death, he never observed anything to make him suspect drug use or manufacture by the offender. The Psychologist he was seeing did not observe or suspect any evidence of drug taking by the offender. If he was taking drugs on a regular basis this would have been evident in his demeanour, behaviour and attitude. The Psychologist who saw him is one of the Department’s most experienced Psychologists.

Following the death of the offender, his sponsor, who had been living in the house, informed the Probation Officer that in the week before his death the offender had been visited by a number of people who were suspected of supplying him with drugs.

No allegations were ever made to the Probation Officer about drug manufacturing or drug use. The Police did not ever raise any concerns with the Probation Officer or staff about any concerns relating to this offender.

The Community Probation Service has been informed that the Police are still investigating, for the information of the Coroner, the source and supplier of the drugs that are suspected of causing the offenders death. At the conclusion of the investigation the Coroner will set a date for an Inquest hearing.

Allegation 9: driving around in a juiced up Holden car.

This offender did not have any special condition set by the Parole Board as to the make and engine size of the car he could own or travel in.

If the Probation Officer had seen the offender driving in such a car no action would or could have been taken.

The important point is that the offender was never absent from the premises without approval from the Probation Officer.

ENDS

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