Groundbreaking 501 Decision In Auckland Court
For the first time, a 501 returned offender has successfully challenged a Special Conditions Order in the Waitakere district court.
Richard Major, self-represented, opposed the special supervision order request imposed by the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections.
Under section 17 of the Returning Offenders (Management and Information) Act 2015, all returning offenders from Australia, commonly known as 501’s, must adhere to release conditions, like parole.
These conditions are made up of two orders:
One is the standard order as detailed in the Determination Notice provided to all 501’s on arrival in New Zealand after deportation. The standard order, signed by the Commissioner of Police, states that all returning offenders are basically treated as parolee’s, regardless of their Australian release conditions.
If an Australian Judge’s sentence states no parole on release, 501’s still have to sign in on a weekly basis with a Department of Corrections Probation Officer. The length of this parole condition is based on the Australian bench sentence. Under 1 year, 6 months. 1-5 years, 12 months and so on.
Secondly, the Department of Corrections can impose a “Special Conditions order” based on the details of the crime/s committed. This can include random drug screening, restrictions on movement within New Zealand and more stringent conditions based on the individual probation officer's recommendations.
Waitakere District Court Judge P A Cunningham agreed that there was no sound basis for these special conditions to be imposed on Mr. Major based on his behavior and efforts since arriving in NZ September 2019.
Judge Cunningham stated, “He seems to have done extremely well since the offending was discovered in Australia. The Corrections Department (NZ), through Probation, have done nothing to assist him in terms of treatment for his past drug issues”.
She added, regarding continued Drug Screening “I am also of the view that it is a pointless condition...”
Judge Cunningham was candid in her summary of the Department of Corrections performance in this case. “Apart from Drug testing on two or three occasions I cannot see what positive benefit there has been to Mr. Major by the imposition of the release conditions”.
In relation to reporting on movements and residential address, Judge Cunningham noted "I cannot see anything in Mr. Major's behaviour that warrents the suggestion that he is not going to tell his probation officer where he is living".
Judge Cunningham concluded, in reference to the Police Commissioners determination for 501’s “If it where up to me, and I had the power to do so, I would cancel the standard conditions as well”.
About Richard Major.
I moved to Australia in 1987. Up until 2019 I had zero recorded convictions and have no criminal history in New Zealand. I spent 9 months in Queensland prison’s on drug related charges before being deported. I left behind two teenage children, my only sister, Father, Stepmother and extended family.
I hope this result begins to pave the way for a fairer system for 501’s and that the New Zealand Government takes note that civil rights apply to all citizens.
Although grateful to be heard and succeed in court, there is much more work to be done.
As a social justice advocate I am working on a new improved reintegration strategy, mainly in an atempt to reduce the 40% rate of 501’s returning to incarceration when back in New Zealand.
This includes the development of a "Returning Offenders Advisory Pack", to be made available to inmates waiting for deportation. This pack aims to dispell the myths and assist in decision making based on facts. The truth is, if you are going to be deported, New Zealand is not a bad destination.
Currently most 501's have no idea what is waiting for them. There is a total lack of transparancy and the fear of the unknown leaves 501's open to gang related recruitment from within Australian prisons.
The current band aid system of rules thrown together in haste have failed. The tens of Millions of dollars being spent housing prisoners does not make sense. Even a small proportion of those funds, allocated to a properly researched and implemented reintegration plan would go a long way to solving the issue, rather than patching it ip.
Corrections are doing the best they can, but very limited resources make their job's unenviable.
The same can be said for PARS (People at Risk Solutions) a not for profit organisation that works with released prisoners and 501's. I recently bumped into my PARS manager whilst on a walk in Takapuna. He was working on a construction site, replacing his social welfair hat with a construction helmit. Simply put, he could not survive on the meagre wages on offer and had to change jobs.
Sooner or later New Zealand has to start listening to the 80% or more of returning offenders who genuinely want to rebuild their lives and contribute to their country of origin. Not all 501’s are 'bad eggs". The majority want to work, rediscover AOTEARO and leave their past behind.
This is a complex issue and rather than point the finger at Australia, New Zealand must take positive steps for her Citizens now.