Phillip John Smith's release botched - report

CAPTURED: Phillip John Smith, pictured as he was passing through Auckland Airport on his way out of the country.

CAPTURED: Phillip John Smith, pictured as he was passing through Auckland Airport on his way out of the country.

Recaptured murderer and paedophile Phillip John Smith's temporary release programme was "overly ambitious" and "misinformed", a review into his escape says.

Corrections Department chief executive Ray Smith this morning made public a summary of the findings of the review into Smith's escape while on temporary release.

"The review by Corrections' Chief Custodial Officer reveals that the plan for Smith's series of temporary releases was overly ambitious and misinformed.

"He's a highly manipulative and deceptive person who although technically eligible, should not have been considered for temporary release."

The convicted killer absconded while on release from Waikato's Spring Hill prison on November 6, and was captured a week later after being recognised at a hostel in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had travelled under a passport issued in his birth name, Phillip Traynor.

He remains in a Brazilian prison while deportation proceedings are finalised.

Smith was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 for murdering the father of a child he sexually abused in Carterton between 1992 to 1995, after he tracked the boy down to their new Wellington home in December 1995.


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The review said the release plan was premature and started without clarity whether the Parole Board was likely to release him in the foreseeable future.

The Parole Board had made mention of the fact his case for parole would be strengthened by temporary release but said it was in the hands of Corrections to decide if that was appropriate.

Insufficient weight was given to Smith's complex risk profile and dangerous offending behaviour, the review said.

There were several alerts, misconducts and numerous attempts to thwart and abuse systems, including both internal and external systems, on his file but they were not identified in the decision to grant temporary release.

"Smith's complex risk profile was underestimated by staff and the appropriate offender management plan did not substantially address these issues.

"The management plan instead focused on discrete needs, events and pieces of information in isolation from a complete picture.

"The conflicting nature of his presentation was not identified and interrogated, and key pieces of information were not shared and analysed into patterns of risky behaviour."

Prison staff believed that his minimum security status in prison entitled him to a pathway to release, given the endorsement by a senior psychologist and what they mistook as support from the Parole Board.

But security classification was assessed on prisoner behaviour in prison, not the risk to the community when outside a prison environment, the review said.

The plan was made at Te Piriti, Auckland Prison, but upon his transfer to Spring Hill prison it was never reviewed as to its intention and end goal.

Information sharing between key managers at Spring Hill prison was inadequate and when they were confronted with the potential that Smith may have deviated from his temporary release plan they did not act with sufficient urgency to alert police or the victims.

His sponsor did not meet the conditions of the licence she signed when she picked up Smith from prison, the review said.

She either allowed him to get into a taxi or dropped him off at a co-sponsor's address, despite the licence saying Smith must remain with her at all times.


Ray Smith said Corrections had failed to keep the New Zealand public safe.

"For his victims this has been a terrible time and I have apologised to them and offered to meet with them.

"They and the New Zealand public quite rightly expect Corrections to keep them safe and with Smith we failed."

Smith had completed nine temporary releases before he made his escape.

Corrections have extended the suspension of temporary releases until December 9 and when they did come back into use Corrections would move to use greater monitoring technology to keep track of prisoners, Ray Smith said.

Corrections averaged about 4700 temporary releases each year and Smith exposed faults in the release process, he said.


Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga said the report spelled out a number of failings on the part of Corrections.

"There are a number of failings in there in terms of communication, in terms of [not having] a holistic plan to deal with what is a dangerous high-risk offender," he said this morning,

"I'm still upset that there were failings in the system, but we've moved to take on all 13 recommendations [in the report] and my brief will be to watch how those 13 recommendations are implemented".

These included GPS electric monitoring for all prisoners on day release, with maximum release times of 12 hours.

Lotu-Iiga said all prisoners would be monitored constantly.

"If they go outside the conditions of their release then they will be apprehended."

Lotu-Iiga's handling of the incident has come under fire as he took days to establish what exactly he believed the problem was. He denied he was out of his depth. "I haven't botched anything."


The recommendations from the Chief Custodial Officer include:

* Review all policies for instances where prisoners are outside prison.

* Establishing a temporary release advisory panel to consider all temporary release applications.

* GPS monitoring as default for all prisoners on temporary release unless waived by the prison manager.

* Temporary releases must be limited to a maximum of 12 hours unless approved and signed off by the National Commissioner.

* An investigation into the psychological management of prisoner Smith should be undertaken.

* A review of the Te Piriti Child Sexual Offending programme be undertaken by an independent expert in the field.

* A weekly report of all prisoners subject to temporary release must be provided to the prison manager at the beginning of each business week for their attention.


The government has also launched an inquiry into Smith's escape. The investigation into how he fled New Zealand while on temporary release will take at least six months, and will be chaired by former High Court judge John Priestley QC.

The draft terms of reference released by State Services Minister Paula Bennett yesterday indicated a focus on the assessment of Smith's suitability for temporary release from prison relative to his risk of re-offending.

The inquiry would also look at identity issues, including the use of alternative names and aliases by people within the criminal justice system.

The government inquiry would be informed, but not bound, by other reviews into Smith's escape - including the multi-agency review led by the Ministry of Justice and Corrections' internal review.

 - Stuff

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