25 Nov 2014

Smith 'should not have been released'

8:46 pm on 25 November 2014

A Corrections Department review has found convicted paedophile and murderer Phillip John Smith should have never been considered for temporary release.

Smith left New Zealand on 6 November on a passport obtained under his birth name, Phillip Traynor, and headed to Brazil via Chile. He left the country while on a 72-hour release from Spring Hill prison in Waikato.

CCTV footage of  Phillip Smith as he passed through Auckland Airport.

CCTV footage of Phillip Smith as he passed through Auckland Airport. Photo: NZ Police

He has since been taken into custody in Rio de Jainero, and is facing deportation.

Smith was jailed in 1996 for stabbing to death the father of a boy he had been convicted of sexually assaulting.

Corrections' Chief Custodial Officer has conducted a review into the escape, and found Smith's series of temporary releases were "overly ambitious and misinformed".

Read the summary of the Chief Custodial Officer's review

The officer has made 13 recommendations, including greater use of GPS, a report on how sponsors are verified and an evaluation of the risk assessment process.

Department of Corrections chief executive Ray Smith said the escapee was highly manipulative and should not have been considered for short-term releases.

"For his victims this has been a terrible time and I have apologised to them and offered to meet with them.

"They, and the New Zealand public, quite rightly expect Corrections to keep them safe and with Smith we failed," he said in a statement.

He said too much emphasis was placed on the treatment provided to Smith in the Te Piriti programme for child sex offenders run at Auckland Prison, rather than enough consideration being given to his murderous and violent tendencies.

"Due to an over-reliance placed on psychological reports and an indication of support from the Parole Board, prisoner Smith began a series of temporary releases.

"Senior prison staff approved these earlier successful releases which eventually meant that he was placed in the hands of a verified sponsor who did not inform us when he left her supervision.

"We have on average about 4700 temporary releases each year and Smith has exposed faults in our release process which are being addressed with urgency."

Mr Smith said he's also working with the departments of justice and customs to make sure information is shared, since Smith fled New Zealand on a passport obtained in his birth name of Phillip Traynor.

The Corrections Department has suspended temporary releases, unless for exception reasons, until 9 December.

He said he had apologised to Smith's victims and said he would act on the recommendations in the review.

Minister vows to fix temporary release flaws

Minister of Corrections Sam Lotu-Iiga said he was determined to fix the rules governing the temporary release of prisoners.

Mr Lotu-Iiga ordered the review into temporary release procedures after Smith fled the country.

The minister said he was upset there were failings in the system and would be adopting all 13 recommendations made by Corrections' internal review.

"I'm going to keep a close view on how those are implemented, and I think that's what the New Zealand public expect of me as the Minister of Corrections," he said.

"I particularly am happy that we will take on GPS monitoring as a matter of default for all temporary release prisoners, and we will also be limiting the amount of time on temporary release to 12 hours."

Mr Lotu-Iiga agreed with the review's central finding that the plan to manage Smith was overambitious and ill-informed.

Labour MP Kelvin Davis said it was unacceptable that someone such as Smith was allowed out on temporary release without monitoring.

"He's been described as being devious and manipulative. The question is 'should he have been allowed out in the first place without some sort of monitoring'," he said.

A government inquiry led by State Services Minister Paula Bennett is set to begin and will release its results in late 2015.

The recommendations in full

  • All policies, procedures, instructions and instances of when prisoners are outside of the secure prison perimeter must be reviewed and updated as a priority.
  • A Temporary Release Advisory Panel should consider all temporary release applications.
  • GPS monitoring should be considered as the default for all prisoners on temporary release unless otherwise authorised by the prison manager.
  • Contact monitoring arrangements for all prisoners on temporary release must be clearly described, accurately recorded on licence conditions and agreed to by the sponsor, employer, prisoner and prison manager.
  • Temporary releases must be limited to a maximum of 12 hours unless approved and signed off by the national commissioner.
  • A full review of the sponsorship process must be undertaken.
  • An investigation should be undertaken into the psychological management of prisoner Phillip John Smith.
  • A review of the Te Piriti child sexual offending programme should be undertaken.
  • A weekly report of all prisoners subject to temporary release must be provided to the prison manager at the beginning of each business week.
  • The revised prisoner placement system should be implemented as soon as possible.
  • All relevant Corrections staff should be trained in the new temporary releases, process.
  • All managers and staff must be reminded that during any incident a time bound log of events must be started and maintained.
  • Internal control monitoring should include the temporary release application process.

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