1 Oct 2015

Corrections 'lurching from crisis to crisis' - Greens

7:40 pm on 1 October 2015

Problems at the Corrections Department are far more widespread than those revealed in a new report into the escape to South America of murderer and paedophile Phillip Smith, says the Green Party.

Phillip John Smith

Phillip John Smith is serving a life sentence for murdering the father of a boy he had sexually assaulted. Photo: Police

In the report, released today, investigators detailed multiple failings by Corrections, Customs, police and others that let Smith fly out to Chile, and wrote that prisons must do a better job assessing the dangers of letting high-risk inmates out on temporary release, and none should be able to get hold of a passport.

One Corrections staffer was fired and two have been censured over the debacle.

But Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the problems with Corrections were not isolated to the Smith escape.

"The problem is, is that we just don't know what other systemic failures there are in Corrections, and as has been shown by the Serco debacle they are lurching from crisis to crisis," Mr Shaw said.

"And this is yet another one."

Labour's justice spokesperson Jacinda Ardern said people would be surprised at Corrections' lack of monitoring of Smith when he was on temporary release.

"One simple phone call to his sponsor to determine whether or not he was indeed staying at that sponsor's address could have potentially undermined his escape plan," she said. "The fact that didn't happen is pretty alarming."

Phillip John Smith

Smith fled to South America last November while on a short-term release from Springhill Prison. Photo: RNZ

Ms Ardern said the bungled monitoring of Smith, a convicted murderer and child sex offender, was worse than clumsy, it was dangerous.

"This is a prisoner that was clearly underestimated."

Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga said the inquiry has identified areas of weakness and the Government was moving to improve things.

"Obviously (I'm) disappointed that certain mistakes were made, but the key thing is that we put in place the systems and the approaches so that these mistakes don't get made again."

He said Corrections officials had been held to account.

"One person had his employment terminated, two have been censured, so there has been a degree of accountability, but we've got to improve the system, take on board some of the recommendations which have been made by the inquiry and improve the safety and security for all New Zealanders," Mr Lotu-Iiga said.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said a multi-agency review had already identified many of the failings.

"What we've done from immediately after Mr Smith left the country was lodge up to 11,000 different identities with Customs, and already we've seen a number of offenders stopped at the border. So we've taken some immediate steps to plug some of those gaps, but the report is right, we need to do a lot more sharing of information between agencies."

Corrections chief executive Ray Smith told Checkpoint Smith's risk should have been assessed differently.

"He exposed a series of weaknesses in our system and we've learnt from that, and we've put in place a better system now to make sure that risk is assessed and a way in which it includes all of the information available to the prison staff."

The Smith inquiry has made 39 recommendations to the Government - it has accepted 34 outright and is considering the others.

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