Key Points:

There are doubts about public safety because the Department of Corrections is not following its own parole rules, the Auditor-General said this afternoon.

The finding comes after a number of high profile parole cases, including that of Graeme Burton who killed Karl Kuchenbecker in Wainuiomata while on parole in January 2007.

Auditor-General Kevin Brady looked at 100 cases of offenders released on parole, including 52 serious cases.

He said this afternoon: "In most of those 100 case files, the department had not followed one or more of its own sentence management requirements. Five of the requirements that my staff checked are the most important, in my view, for keeping the public safe, and one or more of these five requirements had not been followed in most of the 100 cases."

He said he was concerned at the department's ability to ensure public safety.

Justice Minister Judith Collins told Parliament the report was alarming.

She said the previous Labour government did not properly fund the probation staff in the service.

"I support all of the recommendations of the auditor-general and I am treating the findings of this report extremely seriously," Ms Collins said.

She was asked if she still had confidence in Corrections chief executive Barry Matthews.

"I am confident that Mr Matthews is fully aware of how seriously I view this issue," she said.

Not easy

Mr Brady said the department's job was not an easy one. It operated 20 prisons and about 150 Community Probation and Psychological Services centres nationwide.

"On any given day, the department's staff manage about 8000 prisoners and about 35,000 people serving community-based sentences and orders. This includes about 1800 offenders who have been released from prison early on parole," he said in the report tabled to Parliament.

"The offenders on parole that the department is managing have served prison sentences and often have little experience of complying with time frames. These offenders can be unpredictable, and often have difficulty re-integrating into the community."

The audit Mr Brady's staff carried out led to 20 recommendations, most of which he urged the department to follow its own procedures.

"In my view, because of the potential risks to public safety, any non-compliance with some of the Department's requirements and procedures is cause for concern."

The five recommendations he was most concerned about were that:
* the proposed accommodation of offenders was not problematic for victims
* probation officers regularly visited offenders in their homes
* senior staff oversaw how probation officers manage high-risk offenders
* enforcement action was consistent and prompt
* victims were notified promptly about certain enforcement actions relating to an offender's parole.

Mr Brady said Corrections had provided a detailed response to his report and had introduced some changes and was taking further action.

The department said it had around 10 per cent fewer probation officers than it needs to manage offenders in keeping with parole requirements.

It intended to apply for more funding this year to recruit and train more probation officers, but if successful, the extra officers would not be fully trained until the middle of 2011.

"However, in my view, recruiting more probation officers will not fix all the problems my staff found. The department also needs to identify and address the reasons for the recurring non-compliance with important requirements for managing offenders," Mr Brady said.

"Given the nature and extent of what we have found, I will be closely watching the department's progress in implementing our recommendations."

- NZ HERALD STAFF, NZPA