Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Parole hearings: 'We're still fighting to keep him in prison'

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

Leigh Woodman has endured eight parole hearings within six years to fight to keep the man who murdered her 15-year-old daughter behind bars.

For most of those hearings, Mrs Woodman has felt the needs of the victims' families were not taken seriously.

But she says the tide is slowly turning in favour of the victim over the offender - especially with last year's appointment of Justice Warwick Gendall as the head of the Parole Board.

Justice Gendall at the weekend signalled more needed to be done for the victims of crime.

Their comments come as the Parole Board releases its annual report for the year to June, which said it had conducted more than 100,000 hearings since it was created 11 years ago.

In the report, Justice Gendall said in every decision the board made, the paramount consideration was the safety of the community.

Mrs Woodman's daughter Vanessa was murdered in on the evening of February 13, 1997 by Nicholas Hawker on the grounds of a Wellington high school.

"He cut her throat, he stabbed her 32 times and he sexually assaulted her," Mrs Woodman said.

"That little girl died on her own in pain and terror, without anybody there who loved her, and that's what tears you up."

Hawker has another parole hearing next year.

"We're still having to fight to keep him in prison," Mrs Woodman said.

In the report, Justice Gendall said parole was a "bridge across which an offender must cross between the prison and the community, assisting in his/her reintegration is important, but always subject to the prime factor of community safety".

"With the ability to recall, parole has internationally been proven to be three to four times more successful in preventing re-offending than automatic release at the end of a sentence."

The number of parole hearings this year decreased from the previous year, falling from 9427 to 8997.

Justice Gendall said the board had increased media attendance at hearings, which enabled the public to gain a greater understanding of the reasons for decisions and the processes of the board.

At a Sensible Sentencing conference he spoke to at the weekend, Justice Gendall said he was "coming to believe that we should do more" for the victims.

Mrs Woodman said the judge gave her "hope" for the victims - "I think he is listening to us".

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By the numbers:

* the board saw 5062 offenders for 8997 hearings;

* of those hearings, 6093 were parole hearings;

* 91 per cent of parole hearings result in a final decision;

* the Department of Corrections applied for 508 recalls;

* hearings were increasingly being conducted by video conference - 15 per cent this year, up from 11.2 per cent on the previous year.

* of those sentenced with an indeterminate sentence, such as murder or preventative detention, 8 per cent were granted parole;

* it costs more than $100,000 to keep an inmate in prison per year; and

* longest serving prisoner, Alfred Vincent, has been behind bars for 47 years.

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