A female prison psychologist who had a sexual relationship with a former inmate she had treated in jail controlled him by internet tracking of his calls on a cell phone she gave him, an inquiry found.
The psychologist quit her job at the Department of Corrections during an investigation into a complaint laid by the man and she is no longer registered to practise clinical psychology, according to the inquiry report of Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Theo Baker.
Following Ms Baker's decision that the psychologist, identified only as "Ms B", breached professional boundaries and the code of patients' rights, the commissioner's director of proceedings is considering whether to lay charges at the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.
"The Department of Corrections missed an opportunity to clarify Ms B's involvement with Mr A [the complainant], and did not have a system in place to oversee any inappropriate access to its departmental offender management system," Ms Baker said.
The man was in prison for just over two years from 2010. For about a year of his sentence, he received psychological assessment and treatment from Ms B.
The man claims the psychologist kissed him in her office while he was still in prison, but she denies this.
He also claims she asked him to ask the Parole Board to extend his prison stay briefly because of her pregnancy.
She denies this too but Ms Baker said: "I share the Parole Board's surprise that Mr A asked to extend his time in prison by six days, and I consider it is more likely than not that his subsequent explanation that it was because of Ms B's suggestion that he do so to enable her to rest following giving birth is correct."
After the man was released from prison, he stayed with the psychologist and her two children in a cabin. Later, she paid for bus tickets so the man could visit her, which he did four times, and a sexual relationship began, continuing until 2012.
She financed a car for the man, occasionally gave him small amounts of money and provided a cell phone.
From her home computer, she repeatedly accessed the man's records on the department's offender management system after his release. The man said this was to monitor his communications with his probation officer, but the psychologist said it was for her own protection.
Ms Baker said the man's rehabilitation was compromised by the secrecy around the relationship and his inability to communicate openly with the probation service.
"Ms B also controlled and influenced Mr A by her use of the internet to track his recent activity on his cell phone. She agreed that she commented on the amount of contact and times of his contact with his ex-partners, but denied that she threatened to take steps to have Mr A recalled to prison because he lied to her about his contacts with his ex-partners."
Ms Baker found the psychologist fostered the man's dependence on her and failed to comply with professional and ethical standards by developing a relationship that was unprofessional and inappropriate.
She said the psychologist had made a written apology to the man and accepted she had crossed professional boundaries and should have had no contact with the man after he left prison.
Corrections said in a statement that it was extremely disappointed by the actions of its former employee, who was in a position of authority over the then-prisoner.
The department had addressed Ms Baker's recommendations, including doing monthly audits of staff access to the offender management computer system.
Never acceptable, says Psychological Society
A sexual relationship with a client or former client is never acceptable for psychologists in New Zealand, their professional body says.
"Some countries specify a seven-year injunction on having romantic relationships with a client [after the professional relationship ends]. In New Zealand there is no statute of limitations," said Psychological Society executive committee member Dr John Fitzgerald.
"The current view in the profession itself is that it's never acceptable to have a sexual relationship with a client or ex-client based on the power imbalance that results from doing the sort of work we do where you get to know a lot about a client and the client gets to know very little about you."
He said the ban on sexual relationships with clients was enshrined in the society's code of ethics, which was clear about avoiding any "ambiguous or inappropriate relationships" with clients.
Psychologists had a responsibility to support and advocate for vulnerable and needy clients. Paying a bus fare or helping them to contact a housing agency wouldn't be unreasonable, he said, but the support described in the case reported from Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Theo Baker's inquiry into a prison psychologist relationship with a former inmate was potentially disruptive for a client.