Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Prisoners will have to earn chance at parole

Justice Minister Judith Collins says this would reduce stress and anxiety for victims of crime by cutting back on 800 'unnecessary' parole hearings each year. Photo / APN
Justice Minister Judith Collins says this would reduce stress and anxiety for victims of crime by cutting back on 800 'unnecessary' parole hearings each year. Photo / APN

Serious offenders will have to jump through a series of hoops to show they deserve a parole hearing under a law change which aims to reduce the stress of annual hearings for victims.

Prisoners serving long sentences will no longer be guaranteed a yearly assessment by the Parole Board and could have their hearing delayed by up to two years if they show no signs of rehabilitation.

Under a bill tabled in Parliament yesterday, the maximum time between parole hearings would be increased from 12 months to two years.

For inmates serving indeterminate sentences, the maximum would be increased from three years to five years.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said this would reduce stress and anxiety for victims of crime by cutting back on 800 "unnecessary" parole hearings each year.

"For offenders who refuse to acknowledge their offending and have made little or no effort at rehabilitation, it makes no sense to hold parole hearings."

A regulatory impact statement noted that annual hearings could also generate false hope for offenders and their families.

Mrs Collins said a prisoner's future hearings would be dependent on the completion of milestones designed to reduce reoffending.

While the finer details would be established by a select committee, it was understood that prisoners would have to complete, not simply take part in, education, counselling and employment courses.

This meant prisoners would have to achieve a certain NCEA standard or finish a drug or alcohol course before qualifying for a parole hearing.

Inmates already had goals they had to achieve as part of an offender management plan. But the Ministry of Corrections was concerned that entitlement to an annual hearing gave little incentive to offenders to improve their behaviour - they still had a hearing even if they did not reach their goals.

If an offender achieved milestones more quickly than expected, then a parole hearing could be brought forward.

Green Party corrections spokesman David Clendon said the law change would motivate offenders to rehabilitate. But he said treatment services in prisons would have to dramatically increase to give inmates the chance to reach their goals.

The Government has reprioritised $65 million as part of a drive to cut reoffending by 25 per cent by 2017, which includes greater access to drug and alcohol treatment.

Corrections estimates that the maximum five-year delay would apply in very rare circumstances.

Tighter rules
* 5000 parole board hearings a year.
* 800 hearings expected to be cut by law change.
* $700,000 saved by new measures each year.

How inmates will ensure they have a parole hearing:
* Pass educational courses.
* Pass alcohol and drug treatment courses.
* Complete job training programmes.

- NZ Herald

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