6 Nov 2017

Prisoner claims unjust treatment by Corrections

4:37 pm on 6 November 2017

A man who has been in jail for more than 20 years has told a court that Corrections keeps 'moving the goal posts' relating to how long he must stay in jail, and he has been treated unjustly.

High Court in Wellington generic, 2 Molesworth St, Pipitea, Wellington 6011

Photo: RNZ / Aaron Smale

Richard Genge appeared before the High Court in Wellington by audio-visual link from Christchurch prison, asking the court to review the circumstances under which he is being held in jail.

He is serving a life sentence for the 1994 rape and murder of Anne-Maree Ellens, in the grounds of Christchurch East School.

In September, the Parole Board declined to release him and he will have another hearing before it in May next year.

Genge told Justice Clark changes to parole law in 2002 should only apply to those jailed after it was enacted, which would not include him.

"The fact the Parole Act and all other amendments have been applied to me while not supported in law means it is unlawful. For the law to apply in a retrospective manner it must be stated [in the legislation]."

Genge said that made his detention "arbitrary" - that is, he is being held with no proper due process having been followed.

He said he had been eligible for parole since 2009, but the criteria he had to meet to do so had been changed by legislation which was implemented eight years after he had been sentenced.

Genge accused the Corrections Department and the Parole Board of picking and choosing which legislation they dealt with him under, which he said was not right.

"If a law was passed today for extra taxation of American cars, taxing them $1000, it wouldn't apply to owners who had already owned them.

"If you are under the 1985 Act, you are under it until you are released and I don't know why, but the Parole Board and Corrections have decided it is easier to put everyone under the same [2002] Act.

"I was sentenced under one Act then in 2002 the goal posts have effectively been moved. It is an injustice. Every time it is amended I am effectively re-sentenced without having a say."

Genge also claimed he had been denied the opportunity to do rehabilitation courses, which would have improved his parole chances and said if it was in his interests to so such a programme, then one should be provided.

"At my first Parole Board it was recommended I do two programmes. I went to one and they said you don't even meet the minimum standards for such a programme. I have had to wait 10 years already."

He was also concerned that departmental specialists had gained access to psychological reports he had commissioned and paid for himself.

"How do they get them? Because I didn't sign them out to them. The principal psychologist apologises to me and says he doesn't know how he got it."

Genge told Justice Clark the closest he had ever come to a programme was some one-on-one therapy but Corrections put an end to that.

"I thought I had a right to present to the Parole Board on the first or second instance with a reasonable prospect of parole. I am into my 24th year now and I have been given nothing.

"If I am being held for the protection of the public, why am I held in punitive conditions? Being punished and being held for the protection of the public are two different things."

Genge said he realised many people thought prison was like a holiday camp, but it wasn't.

h] Corrections

Corrections' lawyer, Charlotte Griffin told the court Genge had repeatedly turned down opportunities to join rehabilitation courses, insisting at times on having individualised treatment sessions.

She said prisoners' management plans encompassed a broad range of goals, including not just treatment programmes, but education, rehabilitation, one-on-one psychological counselling and therapy.

"Access to hobbies; all the things that people in the community do as part of daily life. Also work release and readying them for release are part of that rehabilitation focus."

Ms Griffin said there was nothing to say Genge had to attend a specific programme, but whatever he did, it had to be relevant to him so that over time he could show he had put into practice the lessons he had learned.

She said he could not be involved in such programmes solely on his own terms.

"Rehab treatment is not one size fits all. It involves assessment of experts and those qualified in the relevant fields."

"Their assessment as to what is appropriate is equally as important as what Mr Genge believes is good for him and just because he disagrees doesn't mean the approach taken has been wrong or is not based on valid clinical judgment."

Ms Griffin said the timing of treatment and a prisoner's readiness for it, especially in high intensity group treatment, was crucial to its success.

She said if Genge had done such a rehabilitation course before his 15-year minimum jail term was up, he would then have had to return to the main jail to finish his sentence, which could have negatively impacted on the value he got from the course.

"Prisoners there are, by and large, not on rehabilitation and reintegration pathways.

"So that is polluting of the effects of the programme delivered to a prisoner about how to change mindset, live in community, etc, because other prisoners may not be in that head space."

Ms Griffin said while Genge claimed Corrections had failed to rehabilitate him, release him or reintegrate him into society, the department could point to all it had done to put him on a rehabilitation pathway, including extensive education, including NCEA credits.

She said the department could not force him into the group rehabilitation it felt was necessary for him.

"He has to be willing and as he so clearly said this morning, 'I don't want to be in a group; to tell you the truth I'm not that interested'."

Ms Griffin said the Corrections Department had offered Genge everything it could, but he had thwarted its efforts.

Justice Clark has reserved her decision.