Temporary release important for reintegration – expert

  • 10/11/2014

Should killer and child molester Phillip John Smith have been allowed to go on temporary release? A sociology and criminology professor from the University of Auckland is saying probably not.

Speaking on Firstline this morning, Dr Tracey McIntosh said letting prisoners out on a temporary basis helps them prepare for the completion of their sentence and eventual reintegration into society - but Smith probably shouldn't have been given the chance.

Smith was jailed in 1996 after he stabbed to death the father of a boy he had been molesting. But after leaving Spring Hill Prison on his second 72-hour temporary release, Smith boarded a flight for Chile. He has since crossed the border into Brazil.

"Obviously there has been quite a bit of planning going into his being able to leave the country in the way that he has," says Dr McIntosh.

"Hundreds of people are on temporary release, and in many cases – indeed, most of those cases – that temporary release means that they do have a much smoother entry back into society. In this case it's tragic for the family."

On the whole, temporary release programmes reduce future offending, giving the offender a smoother transition back into the real world, Dr McIntosh says.

"It is very important that we recognise that the vast majority of people who go into prison will return to society, and if we want to really reduce social harm we want to ensure that that integration back into society is as good as it can be."

But with a long and troubled history behind bars, she says Smith shouldn't have been considered eligible.

"There is no real sense that he was an easy prisoner. I think there were a lot of things raised about him – the fact that he had postponement on his parole, that he didn't go for parole for a number of years because they really didn't think he was ready.

"He's a life sentence, he's done 18 years, he had a non-parole period of 13 years so he's done already considerably over that, so he does seem to be someone that would have needed to be looked at extremely carefully."

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern has called for another look at GPS tracking.

"It's my understanding that we haven't tended to use GPS bracelets frequently on temporary release. I could well be wrong, but that's something I think we should look at as part of a wider review," says Ms Ardern.

However Dr McIntosh says Smith's case is not typical of prisoners on temporary release, and GPS tracking might be counterproductive if rolled out more widely.

"Being able to make that sort of call in terms of the level of risk that he would present may have meant that [GPS tracking] would have been something that could have been considered.

"But at the moment for temporary release, if we really want to reduce social harm, we do want people to really integrate back – but have to think very carefully whether GPS really allows a high level of reintegration."

The police have announced a multi-agency review into what went wrong, including how Smith managed to get a valid passport. The Government is also considering an inquiry of its own.

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source: newshub archive