Barry Matthews' future as head of Corrections is in serious question, after his Minister Judith Collins pointedly refused to express confidence in him yesterday.
Ms Collins' reluctance to back her departmental chief executive came after what she called a "damning" report from the Auditor-General raised concerns that the public's safety was at risk because of its failure to monitor paroled offenders.
Ms Collins would say only: "I have confidence Mr Matthews understands exactly just how seriously I am viewing this issue."
Ms Collins' blunt criticism of the department and her refusal to back Mr Matthews means their working relationship is at an end, and will give his employer, the State Services Commission, little choice but to remove him.
The Auditor-General's report was a follow-up to the Graeme Burton case, in which Corrections' failure to follow its own rules for checking on parole left Burton free to kill Karl Kuchenbecker.
The Auditor-General found that in the cases of the 100 paroled offenders it examined, Corrections did not follow its own rules in nearly all of them.
The report also found that:
- Corrections was failing to accommodate paroled offenders in places that didn't adversely affect their victims.
- Probation officers did not regularly visit offenders in their homes.
- Senior Corrections staff were not overseeing the way probation officers managed high-risk offenders.
- Corrections' action against breaches of parole conditions was not consistent and prompt.
- Victims were not being notified when offenders breached parole conditions.
>>Auditor-General's parole report (PDF document, 933kb)
Ms Collins said there was "no justified reason" for the failures, which were all the more concerning because they happened after improvements were made following the Burton case.
Ms Collins said she could not dismiss Mr Matthews herself, as all chief executives were employed by the State Services Commission.
Ms Collins said she had given State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie 10 days to produce a report on "who is accountable - whether that is one person or several people".
After the Burton case, the State Services Commissioner at the time, Mark Prebble, said he would hold Mr Matthews accountable for ensuring that improvements to Corrections procedures were implemented.
Mr Matthews has survived a series of damaging occurrences at Corrections, including the fatal bashing of Liam Ashley in a prison van, alleged prison drug rings, guard corruption and cost blowouts.
Ms Collins said the commission was also asked to detail "what steps must be taken straight away in order that the public's confidence in the parole system can be re-established".
Ms Collins would not comment directly on Mr Matthews' future, saying she did not want to prejudge the report.
But her blunt criticism will leave the Commission - or Mr Matthews - with little option.
Ms Collins said Corrections needed a "culture change".
"What is really concerning me is that this is not one office, one officer, one manager - this is every single office. That tells me there has been a culture that is not one of excellence accountability and professionalism".
Asked if she accepted that culture change had to come from the top, Ms Collins said: "Yes it does - but it goes all the way through, and everybody must adopt it."
The 100 cases the Auditor-General examined included 52 of parolees deemed to be a risk to the public.
Auditor-General Kevin Brady said: "If the department does not follow all of the important procedures when managing an offender, I am concerned that the cumulative effect undermines the department's ability to protect the public."
Mr Brady said he had been assured that Corrections had fixed the problems identified, but warned that "given the nature and extent of what we have found, I will be closely watching the Department's progress in implementing our recommendations".