27 Sep 2012

Choy's mother welcomes new parole legislation

3:53 pm on 27 September 2012

The mother of a man beaten to death delivering pizza says new legislation on parole hearings is good for the families of victims.

Legislation being tabled in Parliament and announced by Justice Minister Judith Collins on Wednesday could see criminals who refuse to accept their guilt or undergo rehabilitation having their parole rights limited.

At present, every offender eligible for parole must be assessed by the Parole Board once a year. Under the bill tabled in Parliament, assessment will only be required once every two years.

The bill also means a prisoner serving life or preventive detention may have to wait five years for a parole hearing, rather than the current three.

The Parole Board holds more than 6000 hearings a year; if the bill becomes law, that number will drop by as many as 800, saving an estimated $1 million.

Rita Croskery has attended every parole hearing for each of the two men convicted of the murder of Michael Choy in Auckland 11 years ago and she says there have been too many.

"Your life is absolutely ruled by all these parole hearings. Sometimes you might be preparing to go on a holiday, or it might be my children's birthdays or my birthday - it could be anything. I've even had to go to a parole hearing on the anniversary of Michael's murder. It's pretty cruel."

Will stop time wasting - Minister

Justice Minister Judith Collins says the new legislation will stop the Parole Board from wasting time with inmates who refuse to accept their guilt or undergo rehabilitation.

Ms Collins told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Thursday it is something the board has been asking for.

"They don't want to see endless numbers of parole hearings when ... they just have half a rehabilitation plan complete. They want to be able to get the rehabilitation going properly and actually then see the prisoner."

Ms Collins says a panel will decide whether an inmate is due for parole.

Mixed views

The Sensible Sentencing Trust says changes to the Parole Act will help curb the number of needless parole hearings. It says parole should be a privilege, rather than a right.

But the Howard League for Penal Reform condemned the Government for introducing the legislation. Spokesperson Jarrod Gilbert says the changes could have serious consequences in prisons.

"If people are removed from the Parole Board for very extended periods of time, then they become a bit divorced from that process.

"That means firstly, that the Parole Board loses touch with them and secondly, they'll have very little motivation to enter programmes, because there's no chance of looking to impress the Parole Board and it may inhibit their rehabilitation."

Board already has power - Wilson's lawyer

The lawyer for convicted sex offender Stewart Murray Wilson, Andrew McKenzie, says changes to the Parole Act are unnecessary, because the Government already has the power to postpone hearings.

Wilson served almost two decades in prison as a result of nearly a quarter century of offending.

Mr McKenzie says the Parole Board already uses the power to postpone prisoners for up to three years.

"They can do a three-year postponement, plus a three-year postponement, plus a three-year postponement, so the tools are already there."