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Parole Board Conference - Paul Swain Speech

Hon Paul Swain
March 2 2004 Speech Notes

Parole Board Conference
Christchurch 8.30am

Greetings: - Chief Justice Sapolu from Samoa; Your Honour Tony Ellis, Chairman of the Board; Chief District Court Judge David Carruthers; Belinda Clark, Secretary for Justice.

Thank you for the invitation to speak here today. I spoke at a conference of the Parole Board in July last year, and today I would like to follow up on some of the points raised there, to bring you up to date on some legislative and policy issues you have specifically asked about, and to talk a little about my focus this year, on reintegrative services.

I want to make a couple of points at the outset about the work of the Parole Board.

Firstly, the key feature of the new sentencing and parole legislation is the objective of public safety. It should be paramount in your decisions. The public is very focused on this issue, and I want to re-emphasise its importance.

Secondly, it is important that in the public eye there is clarity and distinction and understanding about our respective roles. The government appoints members of the Parole Board, the Board makes the decisions, quite properly independent of Government.

But I would like to repeat a theme I initiated at last July's Parole Board conference – I would like you to be more pro-active promoting your role.

I want to commend the Chair, Tony Ellis, for the efforts he made just last week to explain the process behind the release of an offender in a high-profile case.

Tony's letter to the Christchurch Press newspaper explained in simple language the role of the Board, the process it followed, and the requirements of the law. This is exactly what I had in mind when I spoke to you last year, and I would encourage you to do it more often.

Last year I also suggested summaries of your decisions be made publicly available. This needs further action, and I encourage you to begin this as soon as possible.

I have no expectation that the details of all cases be made available. But as I said at your conference last year, there is a halfway point between full disclosure and no disclosure at all. There are obviously cases that merit a more proactive stance by the Board because of high public concern or anxiety about a particular offender.

It is stating the obvious but I will say it – there are greater public interest issues in some cases than in others.

After this conference has finished I look forward to a report from the Board on some of these issues, in particular progress on the Parole Board website.

I also want to reiterate the importance of the Victim Notification Register. I raised this at your conference last year. I want to reinforce that the legislation behind this is integral to government policy. However, I am concerned to hear that occasional mistakes are still being made.

Just one failure to properly notify a victim can have traumatic consequences for that person.

I look forward to seeing an evaluation from you about where improvements could be made, so the notification system is 100% accurate.

The last time I spoke to you, it was very much the early days of the Sentencing and Parole Acts. I want to now give you an update on some of these matters.

Extended Supervision

The Parole (Extended Supervision) and Sentencing Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament in November 2003 is progressing well. The Bill has been referred to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee and it is due to report back to Parliament in May 2004. The Minister of Justice intends to have the Bill passed into law as soon as possible after that.

The Bill places the rights of children to be protected before the right to total freedom of a child sex offender released from prison who is deemed likely to offend again. Children are the most vulnerable group in our community and they warrant special protection.

The Bill has been introduced as the continued management of child sex offenders beyond the parole period is of major concern to the government and the public. Extended supervision is aimed at managing the long-term risks posed by child sex offenders in the community, by enabling the Department to monitor medium-high and high-risk child sex offenders for up to 10 years following release from prison.

The extended supervision regime would not apply to those sentenced to preventive detention, because if released, these people are on lifetime parole anyway.

It would instead apply to offenders who receive finite sentences and where there is a substantial risk of them committing further sexual offences against children.

It is estimated that 56 offenders will be eligible for an Extended Supervision regime each year. Of that 56, the Department estimates that 4 could be sufficiently high risk to be subject to intensive monitoring conditions.

Process

There have been questions as to whether high-risk offenders already in the community will be captured by the provisions of this legislation.

The Bill contains transitional provisions which will cover offenders sentenced prior to the 2002 sentencing reforms.

These are offenders who, if sentenced today, would have been more likely to receive a sentence of preventive detention.

These provisions will ensure that orders can be sought for those currently serving a sentence, or who were under parole or release supervision conditions, as at November last year.

The Chief Executive of the Department may apply to the Court for an extended supervision order.

If an order is made, the standard release conditions are applied to the offender (as per section 14 of the Parole Act 2002). The Department will then provide a report to the New Zealand Parole Board who will determine the special conditions of the order.

The success of an Extended Supervision regime is dependant upon special conditions being matched to the risks and needs of the offender. Examples of conditions that are explicit in this Bill include:

Home detention-type conditions for the first 12 months of the order (proposed section 107I of the Parole Act).

Prohibiting the offender from entering or remaining in specified places or areas.

Requirement for the offender to submit to electronic monitoring of compliance with any conditions imposed that relate to his or her whereabouts.

This Bill will give New Zealand one of the toughest regimes for child sex offenders in the world, with the ability to monitor certain offenders up to 10 years after their sentence has ended.

The legislation allows for electronic monitoring of offenders. The whereabouts of the highest risk offenders may be monitored electronically, or by using constant human surveillance. This type of intensive supervision is deemed necessary for a small number of highest risk offenders.

The Department is currently assessing the merits of Global Positioning System technology for the purposes of monitoring high-risk offenders.

Dunedin pilot for the interagency management of child sex offenders

As well as introducing the Extended Supervision legislation, the government is also running a trial initiative in Dunedin for the information sharing and interagency management of child sex offenders in the community.

This initiative involves a process of information sharing and co-operation between the Department of Corrections, Police, Child, Youth and Family, the Ministry of Social Development and Housing New Zealand, and commenced in Dunedin in July 2003.

An interim evaluation has been completed and a project plan for ongoing work is currently being developed by the Department of Corrections and Ministry of Justice to address any issues and prepare for national implementation in 2004-05 if feasible.

The trial has resulted in much stronger inter-agency relationships being developed in Dunedin, and has impacted positively on the management of child sex offenders.

Proposed Changes to Home Detention

The Parole (Extended Supervision) and Sentencing Amendment Bill also proposes key amendments to the home detention legislation.

The three main intentions are to:

Emphasise that the Court has the primary role in determining whether home detention is appropriate or not; Reduce the frequency of deferrals and how they are managed, and; Require the Court to remand the offender on bail if their sentence is deferred pending an application for home detention.

As was discussed at last year's conference, the New Zealand Parole Board currently declines approximately 40% of cases that are given leave to apply for home detention by the Courts.

The proposed legislation makes it clear that it is the Court’s role to determine whether sentencing considerations - such as deterrence, safety of the community or the circumstances of the offence - make home detention inappropriate.

Offenders are having their sentences deferred to allow them to apply for home detention more frequently than was ever intended.

A change is intended to clarify that the circumstances that justify deferral are circumstances wholly out of the ordinary - rather than ‘normal’ situations such as retaining employment or family relationships.

The Court will soon be required to be satisfied that there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ or reasons why the sentence should not start immediately.

Another area being looked at is how to increase public safety while applications for home detention are being considered.

The Court will be required to remand the offender on bail if their sentence is deferred pending an application for home detention.

This will restrict the offender’s movements and behaviour, and they may be required to report to the Police and observe curfews.

Other changes to ensure that the original policy intent is implemented include: - clarifying that a sentence of imprisonment can only be deferred once; and making it clear that offenders remain in prison while any appeal regarding leave to apply for home detention is heard.

In summary, the effect of these changes is to: Clarify responsibilities of the Court versus the New Zealand Parole Board; Reduce the nature and frequency of deferrals, and; Increase public safety.

Further down the track, we need to look at more fundamental changes, such as whether Home Detention should be a sentence in its own right.

Officials have also been asked to look at further clarifying whether greater distinction should be made between back-end and front-end home detention, and that back-end home detention is focussed primarily as a graduated release option.

The public needs to be assured that back-end home detention provides an opportunity for reintegration supported by a high degree of surveillance. It does in fact ensure a higher degree of community safety than if offenders are released straight onto parole.

All these issues need further discussion involving officials, government and yourselves.

Reintegrative Services

From the government's point of view, there are three stages for reducing reoffending.

The first is early intervention. The government has already done a lot of work in this area, including early childhood education and the targeting of youth offending. This is also the theme of budget proposals from the group of justice ministers.

The second is the good work done inside prisons. This includes the Integrated Offender Management Framework, the various focus units in prisons, as well as the committed and dedicated staff.

The third area, and one which will be getting more attention from me this year, is the sharp end of the process, when the offender is reintegrated from prison back into the community. Some of the systems here are patchy, with better results in some regions than others.

I have asked the Department, as a priority, to investigate ways to enhance the effectiveness of reintegrative support services. This work is due for completion in June 2004.

Research suggests that the period when an offender is first released frequently presents challenges to them living an offending-free lifestyle.

These challenges can include finding stable accommodation and employment, re-establishing long-term relationships with family/whanau, and establishing themselves in a new community.

It is clear that someone who has been in an institution for say eight years is going to require a considerable amount of assistance, otherwise they will find it hard to deal with the pressure to fall back into their old ways, and could end up back inside. We need to break that cycle.

Both the Department and groups outside the Corrections system are doing good work, but we need better coordination of agencies and programmes to further reduce the reoffending rates.

Programmes that provide follow up care after an offender is released are more successful at reducing re-offending than those that do not. This is irrespective of whether the programme targets sexual offending, drug and alcohol abuse or violence.

Programmes provided by Government Agencies- The Department has Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with government agencies such as MSD, IRD and Housing to ensure for example, that inmates have access to information and services in regard to benefits, debt options and employment and housing support. These agreements allow these agencies to contact inmates prior to release and assist with their release planning.

Programmes from External/Community providers provide a huge range of reintegrative services to offenders. You will be familiar with the work of NZPARS who receive funding from Corrections, and Operation Jericho in the Hutt Valley, and there is also a huge range of community services available to offenders, such as church/cultural social services, budget advisory services and women’s refuge etc.

The Department’s review of reintegrative services, that I mentioned a moment ago, will consider how they should work with relevant government agencies and community groups to improve services. Particular areas that are being addressed include:

Developing appropriate accommodation options to meet the needs of released inmates, in particular, inmates who have difficulty finding and maintaining stable accommodation;

Improving the co-ordination of services that manage the transition between prison and the community, and look at ways in which the Department can work more closely with community groups and voluntary agencies to support these goals;

Looking at enhancing existing employment initiatives and ensuring that ex-inmates are able to get and maintain jobs after release. The area of employment for ex-inmates will be one area I will be raising amongst the business community, following my appointment to the new portfolios of Labour and Immigration.

Later in the year I plan to meet with groups and individuals in the community that are interested in offender reintegration. It is expected that they will have some innovative ideas on how we can improve co-ordination and the delivery of services.

I want to thank the Parole Board for its work. You have a difficult role in the justice system. I am optimistic about the way the system is working and look forward to working together to ensure the objectives of public safety and reducing reoffending are met.

ENDS

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