National MP Nathan Guy had called out Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis for a face-to-face meeting with Levin people affected by plans to house child sex offenders in the town.
But the meeting won't happen now anyway, with news yesterday morning that the Department of Corrections has bowed to public pressure and shelved the plans.
The house chosen by the Department was just 10 metres from the road and surrounded by lifestyle blocks filled with families. Gladstone Road has many people walking or cycling to the reserve and many popular swimming holes.
Guy had originally written to Davis personally and invited him to Levin, giving him opportunity to find space in his calendar in the next three weeks.
"My community is outraged by this proposal and they feel there is a real lack of consultation and open communication," he had said.
"The feeling in the Levin community was the strongest I've felt in my 15 year Parliamentary career. Corrections found themselves up against huge pushback and subsequently couldn't follow through with their plans."
Guy said Levin residents had wanted answers after only learning about the possible housing plans last week.
"To allow you to attend this very important meeting I respectively ask you to provide me with a date and time that suits you over the next three weeks and then the meeting will be organised around your availability," he had said in the letter to Davis.
Guy said members of the community living closest to the proposed housing of child sex offenders were right in wanting their questions of Davis answered.
He said there was a community wanting to know what those occupants of the house had been convicted for and the severity of their offences. All they had initially been told was that the residents would be "low risk".
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"No child sex offender should be considered low risk," he said.
Horowhenua District councillor Sam Jennings had also put pressure on the department with a long list of questions, namely if there had been an investigation into the amount of young people living in the immediate area.
He had wanted to know the process of site selection, whether there had been liaison with police, iwi, or the Ministry of Education, and whether there had been any risk analysis or feasibility studies done on the property.
Jennings had also asked whether GPS monitoring was a standard condition for residents of the property and whether there was provision for extra supervision.
He told the departrment he was concerned about the proximity of the house to foot traffic, a nearby Scout hall, regular horse riding treks and school group visits up the river, and the distance and time delay for police response.
No contract was ever signed between Healthcare NZ and Department of Corrections, or between the department and the owners of the land in Levin.
Horowhenua Chronicle understands there is a shortlist of 18 houses earmarked by Department of Corrections, with a majority of those in the Manawatū area, although many had since been found to be unsuitable because of their proximity to schools.
Two properties in Levin had been on the list, one in Gladstone Rd, and one in Denton Rd.
National's new Ōtaki candidate Tim Costley said he would be keeping a close eye on what happens next.
"The process around this has been woeful and can't happen again," Mr Costley says.
"Labour must realise we don't want these sex offenders located in our community.
"The community should remain weary about Corrections still wanting to put sex offenders in our patch after the election."
Meanwhile, Department of Corrections Regional Commissioner Paula Collins said ultimately the services provided were crucial in helping people live crime free after their release from prison, which led to safer communities.
Collins said community engagement was a critical to setting up new services, and no final decision was made in relation to a proposed service until engagement with local communities.
"We know that without safe and stable accommodation services, people are more likely to end up homeless or residing in less suitable accommodation where they do not have the same degree of support and oversight," she said.
"We know that the location of people convicted for child sex offences is a concern for communities, and we work hard to balance this concern with our obligation to safely manage people in the community."
"Public safety is our top priority and we will be continuing our work to find another suitable property in the Horowhenua region, where there is a significant need for accommodation services."
"We are committed to continuing to openly engage with local communities about our work. Ultimately, we seek to make communities aware that people are less likely to reoffend if they are supported, and that services such as these make their communities safer."
"There is a shortage of supported accommodation in the Horowhenua region. We operate similar services in Whanganui and Taranaki that are successfully helping people safely transition back into the community."
"These services provide people who are lawfully required to be released from prison with 24/7 support and assistance with employment, education, training and life skills."
"Ultimately, services like this are crucial to helping people live crime-free and making our communities safer."
"In recent weeks we've been speaking with stakeholders and people in the Levin community about a potential supported accommodation service we were looking to set up on Gladstone Road, Levin."
"We also attended a meeting on Monday facilitated by Mayor Bernie Wanden, elected representatives and community members to provide information about the proposal and answer questions."
"...we advised the people that we had engaged with that we had made the decision not to proceed with the proposed service."
"Prior to deciding on the property in Gladstone Road we had already considered 18 other properties in the region. We assessed these and found them unsuitable for a variety of reasons, including their proximity to schools."
"We carried out a number of checks at the Gladstone Road property, and then lodged an RMA application with the Horowhenua District Council to confirm that the activity is permitted under their District Plan."
"Our staff visited the property a number of times at different times of the day to assess a range of factors, including whether there were any signs of children residing nearby, the suitability of the address for electronic monitoring, looking for bus stops, and the location of any places designed for use by children, such as playgrounds.
Corrections currently provide around 1,100 accommodation spaces each year in the community, and continue to work with Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities (formerly Housing New Zealand) and partners such as HealthCare New Zealand, Salvation Army and other social service agencies to deliver supported accommodation around the country.
More than 15,000 people were released from prison last year, and finding accommodation for people who are lawfully required to be released from prison is one of our most significant challenges, she said.
While the vast majority of people return home to family or make their own accommodation arrangements, the reality is that without us working alongside service providers to offer supported accommodation, some people would be homeless.
This would present an unacceptable safety risk to communities, she said.
"Corrections manages people at the direction of the Courts and the New Zealand Parole Board. We do not decide when a person is released from prison – this is a matter for the Courts and New Zealand Parole Board."
People released from prison must comply with any conditions imposed on them by the Courts or New Zealand Parole Board.
Collins said public safety is always our top priority when it comes to the management of a person in the community.
Community Corrections staff carry out ongoing assessments and use comprehensive risk assessment tools to identify any likelihood of further offending and risk of harm to others.
"We actively manage the compliance of people with their conditions, and hold them to account if they breach. Potential penalties can include breach action, increased reporting to Community Corrections, formal prosecution or a recall to prison."
"In recent years, in response to an increasing shortage of supply of options in the housing market, particularly for those with complex needs, we have increased our investment in accommodation and support services from $3.8 million in 2016 to over $7 million per annum."
"In addition, we received $57.6 million in Budget 2018 to deliver housing and support services to people serving community-based sentences, on bail awaiting trial, or who have recently left prison."
"We are experiencing an overall increase in demand for accommodation for former prisoners and people with community-based sentences and orders, and have had to prioritise services in the areas of greatest need."