MP Kelvin Davis shared Corrections staffer's info with sex offender
Labour MP Kelvin Davis has outed himself as the politician who shared a female Corrections staff member's contact details with an offender who had a history of sexual violence.
Corrections Minister Judith Collins has written a letter to MPs, citing the case as an example of why care needed to be taken when advocating for current or former prisoners.
Collins said the MP, who she did not name, had sent an email directly to the staff member, "openly copying in" an offender with a track record of sexual violence against women and thus sharing her details.
While the offender did not contact the woman, she was "very shaken", and it was an example of why complaints should be sent to the Corrections Minister or chief executive, Collins said.
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"It was the fear that he has all her details and you just don't want that happening, because you're not dealing with people who are always well-behaved, and you're dealing with some people with very serious backgrounds in offending."
Davis, Labour's correction spokesman, confirmed he was the MP to whom Collins had referred.
He said the staff member had already been corresponding with the ex-prisoner, who knew her name. Davis said it was "more than likely" the offender could have guessed the generic email address for Corrections staff members.
"I just assumed it was OK, but I got a grumpy email from Judith last week, read it and went, 'Oh, OK, I won't do that again'."
'CERTAIN EXPECTATIONS AND PROTOCOLS'
Collins' letter also asked MPs to go through her office before visiting prisons - a move described by the Green Party as a "heavy-handed" attempt to reduce bad publicity.
Collins denied the letter, sent to all MPs on Thursday morning, was about reducing transparency, saying she instead wanted to keep politicians safe and improve their access to prisons.
The letter outlined "certain expectations and protocols" that MPs should follow when arranging a visit to a prison or raising issues on behalf of offenders.
Requests for visits should go through a Corrections private secretary in Collins' office, while MPs were asked to give "a reasonable amount of notice" before a visit.
The letter said prison directors were the most appropriate people to guide MPs during a visit, as "our prisons contain the country's most difficult and dangerous people".
Section 161 of the Corrections Act 2004 says that "any MP may, whenever the member considers it appropriate, enter a prison and examine it and the condition of the prisoners, and may inform the prison manager of his or her observations". MPs are not entitled to communicate with prisoners unless it is in relation to their treatment in the prison or a complaint they have.
Green Party corrections spokesman David Clendon said the "heavy-handed" approach went against MPs' right to enter prisons and appeared to be an attempt to reduce the transparency of the prison system.
"That is not only contrary to the legislation, it's also contrary to the spirit of MPs having an important constitutional role in being able to enter the prisons - it's about the human rights protection for inmates, and indeed the wellbeing of staff in the prisons."
Clendon believed the email was "part of a defensive strategy" from Collins following a string of bad headlines involving Corrections, including an investigation into fight clubs at Mt Eden prison.
"Trying to suppress information, making the prisons even more of a mystery to New Zealanders than they normally are, is absolutely the wrong strategy," he said.
Davis said he had already been informing Collins' office of his visits as a "matter of courtesy", so the letter would not affect him.
"It doesn't make any difference to the way I operate."
ACT leader David Seymour wrote to Collins' office to remind her "she is not above the law".
He pointed out MPs were legally allowed to visit and examine prisons whenever they consider it appropriate.
"This point matters because an MP might want to visit a prison precisely due to concerns that the Minister of Corrections was running prisons poorly," he said.
"Minister Collins' insistence that MP visits to prisons be conditional upon her office's permission is illegal, and constitutionally cack-handed."
'THESE ARE DANGEROUS PLACES'
Collins said the protocols were about the safety of MPs and others in the prisons.
"These are dangerous places, so the security is at the control of the prison directors... it's actually about making sure that everyone understands Corrections is working in a very secure environment."
Giving prison directors advance notice of a visit would help them to provide better access and security for MPs, she said.
All MPs were entitled to visit prisons under the law, and she did not want to stop politicians from speaking to prisoners.
"If Dave Clendon wants to just rock up and visit a prisoner, or Kel Davis wants to go visit his friend Arthur Taylor as a visitor, that's fine, but what they can't do is go wandering around the maximum security part of the prison by themselves."
She had sent a similar letter in 2009, during her first stint as Corrections Minister.