Thursday, May 30, 2024

Corrections Commissioner speaks out on Dept’s handling of terror offender

Department of Corrections National Commissioner, Rachel Leota, has today released a statement outlining the department’s handling of the Auckland terror offender in the lead up to Friday’s supermarket attack.

Commissioner Leota began her statement with an acknowledgement of the victims of the New Lynn attack.

“I can only imagine their horror and pain, and the enduring trauma that they will face. Our thoughts are with them.”

She said the offender was first remanded in custody in May 2017. He was released on bail on 29 June 2018 but remanded into custody again on 10 August 2018 due to new offending. On 19 September 2018, after being convicted of charges laid against him in 2017, he was sentenced to 12 months Supervision, however he remained in custody on remand as a result of the 2018 charges.

For the majority of the offender’s time in prison he was managed as a remand prisoner at Mt Eden Corrections Facility (two periods between May 2017 and 1 July 2020) and then maximum security Auckland Prison (from 1 July 2020 to 13 July 2021) for increased oversight from the Persons of Extreme Risk Directorate.

“The Directorate was set up in 2019 to support the management of the small number of offenders identified as presenting an extreme risk with an ongoing, chronic risk of serious harm and/or the capability and intent to seriously threaten the safety and security of prisons and the community,” the Commissioner said.

She said that while in prison, his behaviour was non-compliant, with multiple incidents of threats and abuse toward staff, including numerous incidents of throwing urine and faeces at staff, threatening the use of violence, and assaulting staff.

In June 2020 he assaulted Corrections Officers at Mt Eden Corrections Facility.

“During this incident staff unlocked the offender to move him to an exercise yard.”

“He argued with staff about which yard he was going to and his behaviour escalated. He was directed to return to his cell and he struck two officers. Force was used to restrain him. When being moved to the Management Unit his behaviour became escalated again, with threats made toward staff. He then assaulted staff again before force was used and he was secured in a cell in the management unit.

“When we identify that someone has potentially violent extremist views, we assess their level of risk and develop an individualised plan focused on disengaging them from the potential use of violence. We take a multi-disciplinary team approach to developing the plan, with staff from a range of areas (including custody, High Risk Response, Community Corrections, Psychology) being involved. This can also include partner agencies such as Police. Where relevant, Corrections also seeks advice from our Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) community engagement forum, which we did in this situation.”

She said the forum’s guidance supports staff about how to best support an offender’s rehabilitation and reintegration. The plan can include assessment and treatment from a Corrections psychologist, engagement in a more general rehabilitation programme to target the offender’s motivation to engage or reduce their propensity to use violence, and engaging support from community, cultural and religious leaders or others.

“This was the approach taken with this offender. Attempts were made to provide him with mental health support while he was in prison, however he refused to engage. He also refused to meet with a Corrections psychologist while in prison. With support from the CVE forum, Corrections engaged with the local Muslim community with the intention of having an Imam meet with him regarding his spiritual beliefs. He met with the Imam twice, however he didn’t engage in a meaningful way. Corrections has no ability to compel an offender to take part in rehabilitation activities,” Commissioner Leota said.

The offender was released from prison on 13 July 2021 after being sentenced by the court to 12 months Supervision and granted bail on active charges he was facing for assaulting corrections officers in June 2020.

The community-based sentence of Supervision requires an offender to comply with standard conditions set out in legislation, and special conditions that are imposed by the court and tailored to the offender’s specific risks and rehabilitative needs.

“There is no ability to recall someone to prison from a sentence of Supervision,” she said.

“While Corrections doesn’t determine who is in prison and who is in the community, before someone is sentenced, we provide the court with a report about the offender’s circumstances and sentencing options to inform the court’s decision making. In this case we recommended imprisonment with a number of special conditions for the offender to comply with on release, including GPS monitoring.”

She said that prior to the offender’s release from prison, the department worked closely with Police and partner agencies to carry out extensive planning to keep the community, and Corrections staff, safe from the extreme risk that his violent extremist ideology presented.

“This included consideration being given to accommodation for the offender on his release from prison. The offender had confirmed that he did not have family, friends or support people able to assist him and would require help. He had previously resided at a mosque, however was initially unwilling to consider it again.”

“Throughout the planning for the offender’s release we worked closely with Police due to the involvement that they were to have in monitoring him in the community. Public housing was not available due to demand. The offender subsequently advised Corrections that he was now willing to consider a mosque, which was discussed with the multi-disciplinary team.”

She said Corrections staff and Police visited the mosque accommodation and met with the manager who was informed of the context around the offender’s charges, his risk profile and what conditions he would likely be subject to if released into the community.

“The mosque manager expressed a willingness to consider the offender for a placement, but wanted to meet with him before confirming. This meeting took place while the offender was in prison and the address was subsequently approved as suitable, with work underway to seek longer term accommodation for him through a contracted service provider.”

The Commissioner said that during the offender’s seven weeks in the community after being released from prison, there continued to be extensive and ongoing thorough multi-disciplinary and multi-agency involvement in his monitoring and oversight, and regular communication with those that managed his accommodation, and his lawyer.

The offender was not charged with breaching any of his standard and special conditions, because he had not failed to comply with any of them. He was issued directives not to associate with specific people.

“Corrections had anticipated that he would breach these and was preparing in advance to charge him for this. In addition, we were in the process of drafting an application to the High Court to strengthen his special conditions due to concerns about his escalating risk.”

A Corrections psychologist was fully involved with the multidisciplinary approach to managing the offender’s sentence, the Commissioner confirmed.

“While there had only been a short period of time between his release from prison, every effort was underway to have him engage with psychological assessment and treatment, including from a private psychologist.”

“He would not engage with a Corrections psychologist and the psychological advice was that this was not likely to be beneficial as the offender was unwilling to engage. Legal advice indicated that this was not sufficient to charge him with breaching the related condition of his sentence. Community Corrections were in the process of applying to the Court to strengthen this special condition, so that he could be held to account for failing to engage.

“I am confident that Community Corrections staff were using every lawful avenue available to monitor, assess, mitigate, and manage his risk. He was being managed incredibly closely, with collaboration and oversight from multiple agencies.

“He was a very, very difficult person to manage, and was increasingly openly hostile and abusive toward probation staff.”

Despite this, she said staff continued to work hard to engage him in his sentence, and attempt to have him participate in treatment and activities aimed at reducing his risk of violence, which he consistently refused.

“There was good, proactive communication with third parties in the community to further verify our assessment of him, including those that managed his accommodation, and his lawyer.”

“While reviews are yet to be undertaken, it is evident that Community Corrections’ contact with him exceeded the level for someone subject to Supervision, risk assessments were completed more frequently than is standard, and support and collaboration with a range of partner agencies was provided when potential risk issues were identified.

“Many of our staff worked exceptionally hard to prevent the potential for serious harm to be caused by this person. I am very proud of them, and grateful for their commitment to the safety of our communities.

“They, and all of us, will always ask what more could have been done to prevent the horrific offending that occurred on Friday.”

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