Released prisoner misses out on seeing dying wife one last time by just a few hours

Watch the video for the full report from The Hui.

An Opotiki woman in the final stages of cervical cancer reached out to Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis asking him to show her compassion and release her husband early from prison. 

Rez Tarawhiti-Delamere was just 29 years old and a mother of five children. When The Hui first became involved, her husband Gerald had just 16 days left to serve.

She asked the state to show her compassion and release Gerald on home detention where he could comfort her in her last days.

But it didn't go to plan.

This is a story about aroha and forgiveness, and the compassion we show those in their darkest hours.

Rez Tarawhiti-Delamere.
Rez Tarawhiti-Delamere. Photo credit: The Hui

The background

The Delamere whānau have had their challenges. Late last year Rez's husband Gerald - who's gang-affiliated - was jailed for assaulting her. Agencies have been involved with the family, but with support from Te Whakatōhea Social Services and Oranga Tamariki, Rez had begun to make positive change - before being diagnosed as terminal. 

"Obviously things haven't always gone right but there is an opportunity to make things right, and in these last days it's really important we support them as best we can," said Te Whakatōhea Social Services manager Ian Linton.

Rez's husband was due to be released in just over two weeks, but there was no guarantee she'd live that long. So Te Whakatōhea Social Services spearheaded a push to have him released early. 

"She is hanging on for that release because she wants to heal," said Linton. "She wants to heal for her children and heal for herself, and he's confident they can manage an early release with Gerald having completed all his rehabilitation."

With just 16 days left on Gerald's sentence, Rez reached out to The Hui to raise awareness of her campaign to bring him home.

Complications arise

But it's complicated. Because Gerald's sentence was less than 24 months, he needed to go back to court before a judge or the parole board to grant his early release. That takes time, and time is what they didn't have.

Law professor Khylee Quince said they were caught between legislation - and the only thing left for the family was to apply to Corrections for an early release.

But Gerald was serving his sentence in Auckland South, managed by private prison contractor Serco. Quince sasaid that  can add another barrier for families who are racing against time.

Despite the local iwi being ready, willing and able to manage an early release, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said it wasn't possible.

Gerald was transferred to a publicly-run prison and granted a day visit the next day. But Rez passed away just six hours before he was due to arrive.

Rez's tangi.
Rez's tangi. Photo credit: The Hui

Prison's response

Serco's prison director Richard Laws declined to be interviewed for this story, but said the prisoners' safety and the safety of the community is carefully considered before a decision is made. 

A temporary removal application is not approved without police support. 

During alert level 4, staff arranged for prisoners to make Skype calls. When travel restrictions were removed prisoners were encouraged to apply for temporary removal.

The cost of the escort staff generally is met by the family, but in this case the cost was waived.

The Hui