Phillip Smith is a bald-headed paedophile and murderer, and arguably one of New Zealand's most despised men. Recently he did us a favour.
Backed by bush lawyer and former career crook Arthur Taylor, Smith successfully took a case against Corrections after they put a blanket halt on temporary releases from prison in response to Smith's brazen and short-lived escape in 2014.
Many of these releases were designed to get prisoners into work, and they were actually doing a good job of it until Smith's Brazilian sojourn.
The traditional view of prisoners working — at least the one we see in the movies — is them chained together breaking rocks. While that hard labour might please our instincts to give prisoners hell, there are better ways of putting prisoners to work.
One way involves what is known as Release to Work. Longer-term prisoners nearing the end of their sentence get employment outside the wire. Each day they leave the prison to go to work, and at night they return.
This sounds like a security risk, but these need to be kept in perspective. These programmes only take low security prisoners who are about to be released anyway, and if they don't show up for work, their employers know exactly who to call.
Only a monumental idiot would screw up their chance of being released just to abscond a few months earlier. Also, any risks of offending tend to be only brought forward slightly and are outweighed by the great advantages of the scheme.
The benefits of Release to Work are manifold: for the offender, it reintroduces them to society, gets them ready for release, and when they do leave prison and they keep the job then they have structure and income.
The employer gets a reliable worker, often in industries struggling with workforce issues. The state and others also benefit because the prisoner pays board, child support and any outstanding debts or court-imposed reparation to victims.
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It's difficult imagining anybody seeing Release to Work as a bad thing. And indeed this feeds into the broader popular idea that work can help people change their lives and therefore create fewer future victims.
Ben Elley and I recently conducted research on behalf of Pathway Trust on the topic of employing offenders, and we found that prison has a highly limiting effect on employability.
Thirty per cent of employers in industries most likely to employ prisoners said they would be reluctant to hire somebody with a prison record and 17 per cent said they never would.
These results were perhaps not surprising but they undoubtedly contribute to New Zealand's high reoffending rates by making legal employment so difficult to obtain.
More surprising, though, was the fact that employers who employed people with offending records reported that those employees were roughly as good as anyone else they employed. In other words, the barriers to employment that offenders faced were not proportionate to job performance.
Correcting this perception and opening up employment to former offenders will not be easy.
Far easier is assisting those businesses prepared to give people a second chance. These employers told us that the options that would help them most were those that ensured prisoners had skills they needed, were work ready, and could be monitored and supported early on.
Clearly there is much that could be done here, but certainly Release to Work ticks these boxes.
So why did Corrections quickly rein in the Release to Work scheme after Smith's escape? Political and public pressure. The Department of Corrections exists in an unforgiving environment. After Smith's escape, certain journalists howled for resignations and the minister was beating on the CEO's door.
This isn't to suggest there is no need for accountability at Corrections — of course there is — but knee-jerk reactionism is a long way from being that. And essentially, that's what the courts recently decided.
Let's not forget that Smith's escape was enabled by the actions of a number of different individuals, some of whom were sent to prison.
Smith's escape was far from business as usual. Few systems can defend against that level of nefarious activity and it shouldn't undermine the important things that temporary releases were achieving.
Smith has blown his chance for temporary releases (his weren't work related) and, in fact, he may never be released. Few people will shed a tear over that, but we should be grateful he and Taylor won a court case that is ultimately in the public interest.
• Dr Jarrod Gilbert is a sociologist at the University of Canterbury and the lead researcher at Independent Research Solutions. He has also been appointed to Te Uepū the Government's Justice Advisory Group.