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Minister welcomes Coroner’s findings


Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Corrections

18 June 2007


Minister welcomes Coroner’s findings

Corrections Minister Phil Goff has welcomed the Wellington Coroner’s findings that the Government quickly moved to deal with deficiencies which contributed to the death of Karl Kuchenbecker, and that he therefore has no further recommendations to make.

Mr Kuchenbecker was killed by Graeme Burton in Wainuiomata on 6 January, 2006 while Burton was on parole.

“Mr Kuchenbecker’s murder at the hands of Graeme Burton was a senseless act made worse by the fact that had other action been taken it may have been prevented. I would like again to extend my and my department’s regret and deepest sympathy to Mr Kuchenbecker’s family for their loss,” Phil Goff said.

“While nothing will bring Mr Kuchenbecker back, we must learn from failings which occurred during this tragic episode.

“I welcome the acknowledgement by the Coroner of the extensive changes made by the Government and justice sector agencies to the way that high risk offenders are dealt with in the community following their release. These changes are the result of government-ordered reviews into the events leading up to Mr Kuchenbecker’s death last year.

“The Coroner reports that: ‘The evidence shows that government moved quickly to enact a raft of amendments to the Parole Act after Mr Kuchenbecker’s death and that both the Department [of Corrections] and Police have taken firm steps to deal with the systemic deficiencies made apparent by the circumstances of his death’.

“He goes on to say: “It does not seem to the Court in the circumstances that there is a need for the making of any further recommendations to the [Parole] Board, the [Corrections] Department or the Police … [and] it is important to bear in mind that … critical comments [in the report of these agencies] relate to a failure to do certain things or to act in a certain way and do not stand for carelessness or a failure to take reasonable care …’.”

Mr Goff said: “The Corrections Department has a difficult job to do. Every day it has to deal with people who have offended against society and who potentially pose the greatest threats to it. For the Community Probation service, this includes managing offenders’ ultimate release from prison back into the community.

“While human error can never be prevented in every case, it is vitally important to have systems in place to avoid these leading to tragic consequences. I am pleased that the Coroner has concluded that the appropriate steps have been taken to try to avoid a repeat of the circumstances that led to Karl Kuchenbecker’s death,” Mr Goff said.


*****


Changes in Corrections since the Murder of Karl Kuchenbecker by Graeme Burton include:

Amendments to the Parole Act 2002 designed to ensure the NZPB has all information necessary for its decision-making came into effect from 1 October 2007.

The most significant amendment was to explicitly state that parole was a privilege not a right. Police were also given the ability to directly make an application to the Parole Board to recall a parolee back to prison.

The legislation changes also include provisions enabling the Commissioner of Police or the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections to submit information to the Board on a confidential basis, by allowing the Board to make a confidentiality order in respect of specific information relevant to a matter currently being considered by the Board. The Board has also been given the power to summon witnesses.

Prison Services is now producing Intelligence Reports for the NZPB on the criminal risk profile of serious offenders.

Prison Services has designed an Addendum Parole Assessment report to update the NZPB on changes in a prisoner’s circumstances between the time of the original report and the hearing

Corrections and the Police
Police are notified following the decision to release a person on Parole, and in the case of highest risk offenders the Police are notified in advance of the day of their release. In the latter cases Police, prisons and probation meet together set up across the country to regularly discuss high risk high profile offenders.

The Department has been working closely with Police to ensure that stringent and robust channels of communication are maintained between the two organisations with regard to high risk parolees.

Police may independently submit information to the New Zealand Parole Board.

Actions taken to improve the management of high-risk parolees
Procedures have been tightened and revised instructions provided to staff on the management of offenders on the Offender Warning System, inclusive of Life parolees.

Enforcement has been strengthened, in particular where an OWS (Offender Warning System) offender on parole is non-compliant. Action is to occur within 24 hours of an incident of non-compliance e.g. failing to report to the probation officer. This includes a hierarchy of responses however The type of action taken will depend on the severity of the breach. Ie warning letter vs. court action or recall.

Changes have been made to the criteria for inclusion on the OWS. Specifically, a new criterion was added - Psychological Services and/or the NZPB have particular concerns about the release of the offender and have indicated they consider the offender requires close supervision, and an existing criterion was amended - Offender charged with or suspected of serious violent offending while on a community based sentence, order or licence or while in prison.

The instruction also sets out the home visit and reporting requirements for offenders on the OWS. In particular, the revised requirements mean that offenders are subject to more frequent reporting. In addition the offender cannot move to fortnightly reporting until the Service Manager is satisfied the sentence and sentence plan activities are being complied with, and the offender has completed all special conditions relating to programmes.

ENDS

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