2 Oct 2015

Fewer prisoners approved for temporary release

6:33 pm on 2 October 2015

The number of prisoners on temporary release has fallen dramatically since Phillip John Smith flew to South America last year, Corrections says.

Phillip Smith

Phillip Smith Photo: RNZ / Murielle Baker

Smith, a convicted murderer and sex offender, used a system of temporary release of prisoners to flee to South America,

Official figures from the department said the number of prisoners being approved fell from 806 in the 2013-14 year to 466 in the past year.

Corrections was maintaining the system as it said it helped prisoners who had served their time to fit back into society. But it had imposed strict criteria.

It said prisoners getting this type of release must be classified as minimum security, passed their date for eligibility for parole and must sign up for a border alert at airports.

They must also wear GPS monitoring bands.

Report calls for greater data sharing

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said he supported data sharing between state agencies as was called for in a report into bureaucratic failings regarding Smith.

A report found many state agencies neglectful in Smith's case.

It called for greater sharing of information between state bodies and Mr Edwards welcomed discussions to achieve this.

Public safety and privacy were not mutually exclusive: New Zealand wanted both and could have both, Mr Edwards said.

He was disturbed by hasty claims that the Phillip John Smith situation was due to an over-heated concern with privacy.

One way agencies could exchange data was through Approved Information Sharing Agreements, which were created in consultation with his office, he said.

The report's recommendations were a good basis for further discussions on how agencies could work more closely together to share necessary information.

"I am very willing to engage with the Ministry of Justice and other government agencies in order to work through current and proposed avenues for improved information sharing," Mr Edwards said.

"Having robust information systems that deliver what we need them to deliver is an objective that I wholeheartedly support."

He went on to say Approved Information Sharing Agreements between government agencies were formulated to allow real time access to identity information.

"These Information Sharing Agreements are a new statutory tool developed upon recommendation by the Law Commission, as a result of departments claiming there were legal constraints that prevented them sharing the information they wished.

"That excuse can no longer be the case."