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Coroner’s Inquest into Death of Karl Kuchenbecker

Embargoed until Wednesday 18 June 2008

Statement: Coroner’s Inquest into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Karl Kuchenbecker


The Department of Corrections accepts the findings of the report from the Coroner’s inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death of Karl Kuchenbecker.

The Department would like to take this opportunity to repeat its apology to the Kuchenbecker family for the role it played in the events that led to this tragedy.

Katrina Casey, the General Manager of the Department’s Community Probation and Psychological Service, says the Department has acknowledged there were changes that needed to be made.

“We undertook two investigations of our own and also sought to implement the findings of the New Zealand Parole Board’s investigation that affected us. Across all three investigations it was clear that we needed to improve our procedures and actions.”

“It was clear that we needed to increase and improve the quality of the information we provided to the Parole Board about the behaviour, and allegations about the behaviour of prisoners to help ensure their decisions are as robust as possible.”

“We also recognised there was a need to improve and reinforce procedures for the management of high risk offenders, focusing in particular on taking more prompt enforcement action when parole conditions are not being complied with,” says Ms Casey.

“However, while there was one occasion in early October and then in late November that Burton did not fully comply with the rules, on each occasion the probation officer worked extremely hard with him to get him back on track. This approach was successful for a period and when it no longer was the probation officer applied and escalated the sanctions available at the time. Since then the rules around enforcement action for high risk offenders have been tightened and more clearly stated.”

“Throughout Graeme Burton’s parole period probation staff had a significant amount of communication with Police. We could have done better if some of that communication had occurred face to face rather than largely by email. This would have ensured there was no doubt about our respective intentions and enabled discussions to reach an agreed outcome.”


“Of concern was the fact that the relevant manager had not been conducting the weekly case management checks required for high risk offenders and no arrangements were put in place to manage and take action against Graeme Burton given he had a critical report-in during the week when his probation officer took leave.”

“As a Department we have already made a number of improvements in all of these areas and changes to legislation have also assisted to ensure we are better prepared in the future,” says Ms Casey.

“The Coroner’s report has endorsed these issues, discusses them at some length and acknowledges the Department has already made substantial changes to address the identified shortcomings.”

“We know that there were some issues with the way we provided information to the Parole Board during its consideration of Graeme Burton’s parole request and also with aspects of our management of Graeme Burton’s parole. Additionally while we had good contact with Police, we could have done some of this face to face and we could have done more, other than leaving phone messages to ensure Police knew about the arrest warrants.”

“In short we could have done better and we have learnt from that. The changes we have made will help ensure the Department can work more effectively to reduce the risk to the community from this type of offender.”

ENDS

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Changes made by the Department

Paragraph 121 of the Coroner’s report notes 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 and Police have taken firm steps to deal with the systemic deficiencies made apparent by the circumstances of his death”. The Coroner goes on to note in his report (paragraph 132) that “It does not seem to the Court in the circumstances that there is a need for the making of any further recommendations to the Board, the Department or the Police”.

The Government has made changes to the Parole Act to:

• Make it clear that parole is a privilege not a right;

• Enable the Police to apply directly to the Parole Board for recall; and

• Provide statutory authority to the Commissioner of Police and the Chief Executive of Corrections to put up confidential information to the Parole Board in certain circumstances.

The Department has:

• Introduced a new report for the Parole Board. Prison Services now produces Intelligence Reports for the NZPB on criminal risk profile of serious offenders. This includes up-to-date intelligence information relating to proven or alleged unlawful criminal activity during a prisoner’s sentence. The Board can request the authors of these reports to attend the hearing.

• 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

• Improved communications with Police ensuring less emphasis is placed on informal means of communications (such as email and voice mail). Greater involvement of Police with both prisons and probation in discussions about high risk high profile offenders.

• Implemented new guidelines for the management of offenders on parole who are also on the Offender Warning System. These changes include clearer requirements around enforcement action, timelines and management input. Changes have also been made to ensure earlier and greater oversight by managers as well as reminding managers of the importance of their weekly checks on the management of offenders on the OWS.

• Reinforced procedures to staff on the management of offenders on life parole including frequency of reporting and prompt commencement of action for non-compliance with terms of parole.

• Specific action has also been taken to ensure Managers make robust arrangements for the management of offenders, particularly high risk offenders when staff are absent or on leave.

• Increased consultation with the Parole Board on its requirements for information.

• Improved procedures for informing the Parole Board when a recommendation for a prisoner cannot be actioned by Prison Services.

• Provided advice to the Parole Board about how it can source ongoing training in risk assessment of offenders.

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